The National Rifle Association honored the Republican chairman of Federal Communications Commission on Friday for his role in repealing Obama-era net neutrality protections, making Ajit Pai the latest recipient of the NRA’s “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award.”
Mr. Pai was about to participate in a panel discussion during the third day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) when he was brought on stage and bestowed with the award by American Conservative Union leader Dan Schneider and NRA board member Carolyn Meadows.
“Ajit Pai, as you probably already know, saved the internet,” said Mr. Schneider, the ACU’s executive director.
“The Federal Communications Commission is a bipartisan board,” continued Mr. Schneider. “Ajit Pai got appointed to it by none other than President Barack Obama, because the Senate Republicans insisted Ajit Pai be put on there.”
Mr. Pai “fought to preserve your freedom of speech rights” during the Democratic administration, and he “won against all odds,” Mr. Schneider added. “But the Obama administration had some curve balls, and they implemented … regulations to take over the internet.”
“As soon as President Trump came into office, President Trump asked Ajit Pai to liberate the internet and give it back to you,” Mr. Schneider said.
The Obama-era rules Mr. Schneider cited classified internet service as a Title II “common carrier,” effectively treating bandwidth as a public utility. The FCC subsequently voted 3-2 along party lines late last year under Mr. Pai’s leadership to gut those rules, eliminating regulations that had prevented internet service providers from blocking, throttling or speeding up traffic, albeit in spite of opposition from Democrats and internet activists alike.
“Ajit Pai is the most courageous, heroic person that I know,” said Mr. Schneider.
The Heston award — a handmade Kentucky long rifle — is presented “when someone has stood up under pressure with grace and dignity and principled discipline,” said Ms. Meadows. Previous recipients include Rush Limbaugh, Vice President Mike Pence and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
“We cannot bring it on stage,” Ms. Meadows added. “When you can receive it we will give it to you… you will love it,” she said.
FCC spokesman Brian Hart said Mr. Pai was surprised by the award, and that the gun will be kept at the NRA’s museum during his tenure, Variety reported.
The FCC’s order nixing net neutrality, branded “Restoring Internet Freedom,” was officially published Thursday in the Federal Register, putting it on path to take effect on April 23.
“I don’t play small ball,” Mr. Pai said during the panel discussion afterwards, Gizmodo reported. “I decided that I wanted to make a fundamental change in the way the [FCC] operates. I think it’s important for us to set rules for the road that allow the American people to take control of their own lives, instead of having it run out of an American bureaucracy.”
Attorneys general in 23 states so far have signed on to a federal lawsuit challenging the order.
Heston, the acclaimed star of classic films including “Ben-Hur” and “Planet of the Apes,” served as the NRA’s president from 1998 to 2003. He died in 2008 at the age of 84.