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Trump Names Ajit Pai Head of FCC

23 Jan, 2017 By: Erik Gruenwedel

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

Appointment could reverse net neutrality guidelines

U.S. President Donald Trump has formally named Ajit Pai to head the Federal Communications Commission, replacing Tom Wheeler, who resigned his position Jan. 21.

Pai, who becomes the 34th chairman of the FCC, is the senior Republican on the five-member commission.

In a statement, Pai said he was “deeply grateful” for the appointment, adding he looked forward to working with the new administration, colleagues at the FCC, members of Congress, and the American public to “bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans.”

Interestingly, those “benefits” might include scuttling Wheeler’s landmark net neutrality guidelines, in addition to reduced consumer privacy and fewer regulatory challenges to big media mergers.

To Pai, net neutrality, which purportedly equalizes all Internet traffic by characterizing the Web as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, represents unnecessary regulation.

“This order imposes intrusive government regulations that won’t work to solve a problem that doesn’t exist using legal authority the FCC doesn’t have,” Pai wrote in a dissenting comment on the Feb. 26, 2015, vote by the FCC commission largely along political lines.

The appointment of Pai, who early in his career served as legal counsel for Verizon Communications, was heralded within the industry.

“During his tenure on the commission, Chairman Pai has consistently demonstrated a common-sense philosophy that consumers are best served by a robust marketplace that encourages investment, innovation and competition," Michael Powell, former FCC chairman and current CEO of NCTA — The Internet & Television Association, said in a statement.

David Cohen, chief diversity officer at Comcast, said Pai represents a “terrific appointment for the American consumer.”

Free Press, a public advocacy group, characterized Pai as “an effective obstructionist,” who revels in pushing “alternative facts” in defense of corporate interests. The group questioned Trump’s choice.

“[Pai’s] never met a mega-merger he didn’t like or a public safeguard he didn’t try to undermine. He’s been an inveterate opponent of net neutrality, expanded broadband access for low-income families, broadband privacy, prison-phone justice, media diversity and more,” Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. “If Trump really wanted an FCC chairman who’d stand up against the runaway media consolidation that he himself decried … Pai would have been his last choice.”

Netflix, a major advocate of net neutrality, said any weakening of current laws would unlikely materially affect its domestic margins or service quality since its clout with consumers would ensure stable relationships with Internet Service Providers.

“On a public policy basis, however, strong net neutrality is important to support innovation and smaller firms. No one wants ISPs to decide what new and potentially disruptive services can operate over their networks, or to favor one service over another. We hope the new U.S. administration and Congress will recognize that keeping the network neutral drives job growth and innovation,” CEO Reed Hastings and CFO David Wells co-wrote in their Jan. 18 investor letter. 

About the Author: Erik Gruenwedel

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