The word came down late yesterday that President Trump has named Commissioner Ajit Pai as the new permanent chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Most considered Pai the most likely to take the lead at the Commission following the November elections, but it was not clear whether Trump would name him as the permanent or interim chairman. By taking over as permanent chair, Pai will be able to begin changing the direction at the FCC immediately.
Pai will lead a three-person FCC while Trump nominates and the Senate considers one Republican and one Democrat to fill empty seats, a process that could take several months. Many expect Pai in the interim to begin proceedings to reverse contentious orders adopted by 3-2 votes under former Chairman Tom Wheeler. That will include the 2015 Open Internet order more popularly known as net neutrality. Pai signaled that he was ready to get started straightaway by announcing a full list of new chairman’s office staffers first thing this morning.
Reaction to Pai’s promotion has been mostly positive.
“In an address to the NTCA membership in early 2013, Commissioner Pai was the first of his colleagues to call for universal service to enable broadband services in areas served by our members, and Commissioner Pai has consistently placed a spotlight on the kinds of resources and resourcefulness needed to connect America,” NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said in a congratulatory statement. “Having grown up in a small town in Kansas and noting in his address to NTCA members that ‘rural America is different,’ he has a deep and genuine understanding of how the services that NTCA members deliver improve the quality of life and promote economic development in our rural communities.”
“We share Commissioner Pai's vision for a ‘Broadband First’ future based on a bold but pragmatic strategy to erase the many regulatory barriers impeding the expansion of our nation's communications infrastructure, and the jobs and economic opportunity that depend on it,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, which has been a leading opponent of net neutrality.
Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, now president and CEO of NCTA, the Internet and Television Association, said that Pai “has consistently demonstrated a common-sense philosophy that consumers are best served by a robust marketplace that encourages investment, innovation and competition.”
Powell’s cable TV-industry colleague, American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew Polka, praised Pai’s past stances for rural and small video and Internet providers. “He respects and understands the concerns of independent cable operators, especially in those cases where they have been required to shoulder enormous regulatory burdens to the same extent as much larger providers, such as new obligations to comply with the Open Internet's enhanced transparency rules,” Polka said.
Heather Burnett Gold, president and CEO of the Fiber to the Home Council, praised Pai’s knowledge of the law and how regulatory policy affects communications networks. “His common sense approach to regulation and his forward-looking plans, like his Gigabit Opportunity Zones proposal, are the sort of policies necessary to stimulate investment in our networks without chilling effects on innovation,” she said.
“During his time on the Commission, he has championed spectrum and infrastructure reform and is a leading voice for a common sense approach to open Internet and privacy,” said CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker, a former FCC commissioner. “We applaud Chairman Pai's work and vision including his Digital Empowerment Agenda and its promise of reducing regulatory barriers to broadband deployment and expanding opportunities for innovation and economic growth across the country.”
For those who wish to follow Pai and his policy ideas, he is a frequent user of social media. While former Chairman Wheeler often used the FCC blog to expand on his regulatory philosophy, Pai often drops quick posts to Twitter about FCC issues and several other personal interests. The selfie above appeared this morning on Pai's Twitter feed.