(Photo by Holly Quinn)
On Friday morning, March 8, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai made a stop at makerspace NextFab in Wilmington.
What was the very official who overturned Net Neutrality, who is widely held responsible for not stopping our daily barrage of robocalls (including by John Oliver, who trolled Pai and the FCC over the weekend), doing at the small makerspace in West Center City’s Creative District?
See John Oliver demonstrate the skin-crawling annoyance of robocalls by targeting the exact agency that could stop them, the FCC, with a hilarious robocall of his own on #LastWeekTonight https://t.co/zi6oOaNJwA pic.twitter.com/bV9llPkWa3
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) March 11, 2019
NextFab was chosen as a stop on Pai’s Digital Opportunity Tour of New Jersey and Delaware, which included stops at Wilmington Hospital and a Seaford emergency call center. This promotional tour has Pai mixing and mingling with folks all over the country to talk about broadband accessibility, with some careful talking points about Net Neutrality and a few minutes of press questions to wrap things up.
The tour isn’t an altogether bad idea: Kansas native Pai comes off way more affable in person than his Darth Vader-esque reputation on social media. Face to face, saying the right things about broadband accessibility, 5G and even those damned robocalls, he stands to gain the trust of at least some of the people he meets with. With a new Net Neutrality bill that may undo the FCC’s repeal on the horizon, trying to make friends isn’t going to hurt.
A roundtable discussion brought up topics like 5G, safety and NIMBY, all answered in a way that was entirely inoffensive. The small group wasn’t fawning on him or lashing out at him. It was a pleasant level of calm, and that was probably the goal.
(Wilmington-based internet provider WhyFly, which has previously spoken out against the repeal of net neutrality, wasn’t in attendance and didn’t answer our request for comment by publish.)
The political implications of hosting an event featuring a controversial Republican government official were not lost on Eric Kaplan, director of sales and marketing at NextFab.
“We had a long discussion about how would we be viewed,” he said of becoming a stop on the tour. “We try to stay very apolitical. We want to be a space where people can have open debate about these ideas, and about anything they want, respectfully and with civility. That’s what we think we should be. We should be allowed to disagree and still work together.”
They weren’t given much time to decide — NexFab was added at the last minute, after being recommended as a stop that would different from the hospitals and police stations.
“We’re sort of new and upcoming and representative of a cross-functional area,” Kaplan said. “They thought it would be a nice mix, with the community partners, business partners, a school and our members.”
And so, makers in Wilmington wound up spending a somewhat surreal morning with the chairman of the FCC. Nice, indeed.-30-
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