Jan 15, 2021 - Technology

FCC chairman says tech giants need to explain themselves

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifies at a Senate hearing.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifies at a Senate hearing June 16, 2020. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai says online platforms should be forced to explain their practices in the much the same way he required of broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T.

The big picture: Pai paired those transparency requirements with his 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules. Open-internet proponents feared the repeal would lead to ISPs blocking websites or deliberately slowing traffic, but bipartisan concern has largely shifted to the power of platforms like Google and Facebook to shape what people see online.

What they're saying: In an interview with Axios, Pai took a dig at online companies that supported net neutrality rules for broadband providers who appear to be "unwilling to abide by" similar rules themselves.

  • While he stopped short of calling for regulation, he said he believes most consumers don't understand what is and isn't allowed online, and would benefit from additional transparency on content moderation decisions.
  • "The FCC instituted a strict transparency requirement applicable to internet service providers," Pai told Axios. "They have to disclose, either on their own website, or to the FCC, information about their business practices. What is the argument against requiring tech giants who operate in a similar adjacent space to abide by the same restrictions?"

And while Pai said he didn't second-guess the immediate actions Twitter and Facebook took against President Trump's accounts in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, he did question Twitter's subsequent decision to permanently ban Trump.

  • "There are questions about transparency and consistency," Pai said. "Transparency into how the decision was made, who the decision makers were, why they reached the result they did. Also in terms of consistency — why in this case, but not in the case of the Supreme Leader of Iran?"

What's next: Pai steps down from the FCC on Jan. 20 and told Axios he hasn't made any plans on what he'll do next.

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