When Ajit Pai was first appointed as the new head of the FCC, he promised to be a stickler for transparency at the agency. And in one way he followed through, by making it standard operating procedure to now publish FCC orders a month before they're voted on (even though former staffers and consumer advocates believe he only did so to give ISP lobbyists more time to construct counter-arguments and their legal and policy assaults). Elsewhere, this supposed dedication to transparency has been decidedly lacking however, especially in regards to his efforts to repeal net neutrality protections.
When he first proposed killing popular net neutrality protections (pdf), he insisted he would proceed "in a far more transparent way than the FCC did" when it first crafted the rules in 2015. But Pai has also long tried to argue that a lack of broadband competition (and the resulting symptom of this disease that is net neutrality violations) isn't a real problem, despite the obvious, repeated evidence to the contrary.
There's of course some very solid evidence that can clarify whether or not net neutrality is a "solution in need of a problem," and that's the 47,000 (give or take) complaints consumers have filed with the FCC since the rules were passed in 2015. Back in May, the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request to obtain copies of these complaints, and urged the FCC to extend the public comment period on the net neutrality proceeding for sixty days, providing time to analyze the data.
The group has repeatedly argued these complaints are relevant in analyzing whether or not Pai's attempt to repeal the rules runs contrary to the public interest:
"The commission's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes overturning the net neutrality rules asks the public for comment on various issues. The NHMC points out that the document asks the public if there is "evidence of actual harm to consumers" or evidence that Internet access has improved since the net neutrality rules were approved. Those questions could be answered by releasing all the net neutrality complaints, the group says.
"These questions seek evidence that the Commission holds in its exclusive possession," the NHMC said in its motion for a delay.
Not too surprisingly, Pai's FCC is blocking the release of these complaints, insisting that providing public access to the complaints would be "unreasonably burdensome." The NHMC, also unsurprisingly, isn't particularly impressed with the agency's justification for withholding the complaints:
"The FCC's denial of our motion is shortsighted, denies the public critical information, and flies in the face of their acknowledgment that they have received over 47,000 open Internet complaints since the 2015 net neutrality rules were enacted. It should give the public pause that the agency with exclusive control over regulating Internet service providers refuses to share such information with the public. The information is within the FCC’s exclusive control and was completely ignored in the NPRM."
If you've been playing along at home, refusing to release valid user complaints outlining genuine net neutrality concerns runs in line with the agency's attempts to downplay public opposition to its proposal. That has also included turning a blind eye to fraud and abuse of the FCC's comment system, which is currently being filled with bot-crafted industry "support" for the FCC's tone-deaf plan. The goal, consistently, has been to downplay public support for net neutrality, while pushing the illusion that repealing the rules is anything more than a giant, shameless gift to AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.
And while Ajit Pai clearly thinks he can bulldoze his way through transparency and operational apathy concerns, these are all certain to come up again during the inevitable lawsuits against the agency -- all of which will highlight how Pai and friends blatantly ignored the public interest to the exclusive benefit of a handful of extremely-unpopular duopolists.