David McCabe
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FCC chief launches rollback of net neutrality rules

Robin Groulx / Axios

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has fired the starting gun for rolling back the Obama-era's signature tech policy: strict net neutrality rules.

The argument: Pai's says his path forward will be better for competition, for the economy and for consumer access and privacy — and get rid of regulations that weren't needed in the first place. "Nothing about the internet was broken in 2015," he said about the current rules. "No, it was all about politics."

Pai's plan:

  • Reverse utility-style regulation for broadband providers and eliminate a broad conduct standard that gives the FCC authority to intervene in ISP behavior on case-by-case basis.
  • Ask for public comment on how the FCC should approach the rules banning internet providers from slowing or blocking content and from creating fast lanes.

The other side: Democratic policymakers, left-leaning groups and the tech industry aren't letting the rules go down without a fight.

What's next: The commission will vote on whether to formally consider his proposal — allowing the public to comment on his plan — at the agency's May meeting. A second vote will be required before any changes to take effect. He says he believes that will happen by the end of the year.

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Pai courts conservative groups ahead of net neutrality fight

Robin Groulx / Axios

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been lining up the conservative base to support him in the looming net neutrality fight. "The ask was, 'We would like for you to get engaged, it's up to you to decide what to say, but here's our view,'" according to a source who was in the room during Pai's Friday meeting with conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform and FreedomWorks.

That debate kicks off this afternoon, when Pai gives a speech laying out his strategy for reversing the Obama administration's net neutrality rules and the FCC's legal underpinnings.

Why it matters: If Pai can can gin up the support of vocal conservatives to defend him — liberal-leaning advocates have been able to mobilize millions of consumers to file comments and arrange headline-grabbing protests during these battles — he'll have more momentum to push his proposal over the finish line.

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Yahoo CEO to make $186m after Verizon deal

Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer (Magnus Höij / Flickr Creative Commons)

Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer is slated to receive a windfall of $186 million when much of the company's assets are sold to Verizon, according to multiple reports. That number is based on the value of equity and options she owns.

Why it matters: Mayer's tenure at Yahoo has been rocky, with the company's sale price ultimately being re-negotiated because of revelations of multiple security breaches.

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FCC's Clyburn: Voluntary net neutrality rules won't cut it

Photo: Robin Groulx / Axios; Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

The lone Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission is skeptical of the idea floated by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to replace the agency's sweeping 2015 net neutrality rules with voluntary commitments from internet service providers not to block, throttle or prioritize web traffic. In an interview Monday, Mignon Clyburn told Axios she's worried in theory that a voluntary regime would give major ISPs like AT&T, Verizon, Charter and Comcast too much power.

"You've heard me say this dozens of times, about the internet and broadband being one of the greatest equalizers of our time, and what it enables. And something that important, for a handful of entities saying this is how it's going to be done, I'm a little bit uncomfortable [with] that. I haven't seen anything, but just the promise of that makes me feel a little uncomfortable."

Why it matters: Pai plans to unveil his net neutrality strategy this week, multiple sources tell Axios.

It's not yet clear how the voluntary commitments will factor into that strategy, if at all. While Pai doesn't need Clyburn's vote to move forward with his proposal, she'll play a central role in the opposition. She'll be backed by liberal grassroots activists, Congressional Democrats and tech firms who'll be vocal on the issue.

As the lone Democrat, she could technically sit out of a commission meeting, denying Pai the quorum needed to vote on the proposal. But she doesn't plan to.

"As much as I like good mysteries and good stories and good headlines, I'm just going to say to you that I know I have a job to do, I intend to do that job, I am very proud of the voices and the people that I represent. I intend to continue to represent them. And the rest of the speculation, which again, is not being fueled by me, it's being fueled by others, I'll let them have fun with that."

First 100 days: When asked what the headline would be for a story about Pai's early days as Chairman, Clyburn immediately used the phrase "dramatic shift." Pai has moved quickly to roll back several actions taken by his Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler.

Clyburn suggested Pai's policy choices reflected his work with Congressional Republicans and a short tenure working in the private sector. She contrasted this with her own background:

"He's worked on the hill, he worked for law firms who have represented companies, and I really think that those points of view give him, again, a different foundation in terms of how he sees the world. When we talk about particular topics or issues, our differences often come, I think, again, from our experiences. My parents met in jail fighting for equity and parity in this country. His experiences are different from that."

In response, a spokesman for Pai said, "Chairman Pai's parents came to this country from India with little more than a radio and ten dollars in their pocket. And while neither of them is a prominent public figure, he is enormously proud of their immigrant story." A spokesman for Clyburn later said there was no intent to compare parental backgrounds but explain how her own parents' experiences have informed her work on issues such as Lifeline and inmate calling reform.

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FCC chief to unveil plan to roll back net neutrality rules

Robin Groulx / Axios

Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai intends to reveal a proposal this week to dismantle the legal foundation of the agency's sweeping 2015 net neutrality rules, according to four sources.
The gritty details: He'll lay make a high-level case against his predecessor's move to reclassify broadband service as a utility in a speech Wednesday, sources said. Expect him to reiterate his argument that the 2015 rules have spooked internet providers, causing them to invest less in their infrastructure.
The even grittier details: Pai's proposal would reverse the reclassification of broadband service and explore in an open-ended way how to replace the 2015 rules, according to multiple sources. After the FCC votes on the measure, the public, outside groups and companies will be able to comment on Pai's proposal in what is certain to be a contentious debate.
Those rules are best known for stopping internet providers from slowing or blocking content or providing fast lanes. Pai is said to have previously floated to industry groups the idea of having internet service providers voluntary agree not to engage in those activities, with those promises being enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
An FCC spokesman declined to comment beyond confirming Wednesday's speech.
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Dems push White House to hire more tech and science advisers

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

A group of Senate Democrats used a letter Friday to push President Trump to fill the wealth of open positions in the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy:

"Without adequate OSTP staffing, the country will lack key insights from those with deep experience in these fields. We understand that few staff are currently assigned to OSTP, with only one staff member in the Office of the White House Chief Technology Officer as of last month – a position recently authorized by Congress."

Why it matters: The Obama administration's OSTP was bolstered by the White House's close relationship with tech, and worked on bleeding-edge issues like discrimination in big data and automation. It's not clear how Trump plans to tackle those topics and other tech policy issues that would likely be handled by the office.

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Teen Vogue's message for tech

"I think if you're advertising in GQ you should probably be also looking at a women's magazine as a viable partner and look at women as serious consumers of technology," Teen Vogue Digital Editorial Director Phillip Picardi said at a Thursday night event in Washington, D.C. where he joined colleague Marie Suter in accepting an award on behalf of the magazine.
Spending a little more time engaging with women could even help some of the recruitment efforts, Picardi suggested, speaking at the Center for Democracy and Technology's annual "Tech Prom." They have to "recognize that young women aren't going to show up for you until you show up for them."
Why it matters: Women make up just a third of Facebook's global workforce, 31 percent of the employees at Google and 32 percent at Apple.
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Facebook's record lobbying quarter to start 2017

Facebook spent more on lobbying in the first three months of 2017 than it has in any previous quarter since registering in 2009. The company spent $3.21 million on federal lobbying in the first quarter of the year, up from $2.78 million in the same period a year before. It's the first time the company spent more than $3 million on lobbying in a quarter, according to disclosure records.

What it lobbied on: Immigration, surveillance and connectivity, among many other issues. Read the full filing here.

Why it matters: A new occupant in the White House often brings the hope of major policy changes and the lobbying dollars to match. But it's a time when Facebook also increasingly finds itself under fire over fake news and its role in the political process.

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FCC chairman chats up tech giants on net neutrality

Paul Sakuma / AP

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai met with tech giants during a visit to Silicon Valley to talk about one of their major concerns: net neutrality. Pai described his goal for this meeting with "executives" from Facebook, Cisco, Oracle, Intel and other companies:

I've been simply soliciting thoughts on how to secure those online consumer protections that people have talked about.

Pai said the companies were "appreciative that I was reaching out and trying to solicit a diversity of views" and indicated he thought there was "a lot of common ground" on the issue. Details on the meetings with many companies were thin, but an Oracle spokeswoman said that Pai met with Chief Executive Safra Catz and Ken Glueck, an executive who works on policy.

Why it matters: This is one of Pai's first entreaties directly to the Valley as he looks at ways to roll back the agency's sweeping 2015 net neutrality rules. A trade group representing many web firms expressed strong support for the rules during an earlier meeting with Pai.

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The $45 billion market the FCC wants to reform

Robin Groulx / Axios

The FCC is scheduled to vote Thursday to relax some regulations on the dedicated high-capacity internet connections used by big companies. The so-called business data services market is big business for major telecom companies, although most Americans have never heard of it.

The details: Pai's plan would deregulate markets that are considered to be competitive by lifting price caps on the service. That's a shift from the approach taken by Pai's Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler, who never got a vote on his proposal to tackle the issue.

Why it matters: These high-capacity lines connect ATMs to banks and cell phone towers to underlying fiber networks, for example. And did we mention the market is worth $45 billion?

The fault lines: Smaller companies argue that the move will reduce competition and result in a price hike for companies that lease the service and, ultimately, consumers. The incumbent providers — companies like like AT&T and CenturyLink — say there's plenty of competition already since cable providers also provide high-capacity services, making Pai's plan a much-needed update.