Trump Picks Net Neutrality Foe as New FCC Chairman
President Donald Trump has selected Republican FCC Comissioner Ajit Pai to serve as the agency's next chairman.
"I am deeply grateful to the President of the United States for designating me the 34th Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission," he said in a statement. "I look forward to working with the new Administration, my colleagues at the Commission, members of Congress and the American public to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans."
The move is not very surprising. Incoming presidents usually select new FCC chairs, and the most recent chairman, Tom Wheeler, resigned on Inauguration Day after serving since 2013 under President Obama. But Pai has opposed much of what Wheeler accomplished during his time at the agency, most notably the FCC's action on net neutrality.
With Obama's support, Wheeler in 2014 pushed to classify broadband as a telecom service under Title II of the Communications Act rather than an information service. That gave the FCC more authority to regulate ISPs, and provided its net neutrality rules a stronger legal footing after years of court battles. The commission voted 3-2 in Feb. 2015 to approve the proposal.
At the time, Pai said it was "sad ... to witness the FCC's unprecedented attempt to replace that freedom with government control." Reclassification, he said, was "a radical departure from the bipartisan, market-oriented policies that have served us so well for the last two decades."
Supporters argue that the rules simply give consumers a place to lodge their complaints if they suspect shady behavior from their ISPs. The whole net neutrality debate, in fact, started when Comcast was accused of cutting off access to P2P networks during peak usage. Detractors like Pai argue that ISPs can regulate themselves.
Predictably, ISP trade groups cheered the announcement while consumer groups voiced concern.
Michael Powell, president and CEO of the Internet & Television Association (NCTA) and himself a former FCC chairman, said in a statement that "Pai has consistently demonstrated a common-sense philosophy that consumers are best served by a robust marketplace that encourages investment, innovation and competition. We stand ready to assist Chairman Pai and his colleagues in their effort to promote policies which ensure that America remains a global internet, communications and entertainment leader."
Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron, however, said Pai has "never met a mega-merger he didn't like or a public safeguard he didn't try to undermine," calling him "an inveterate opponent of net neutrality, expanded broadband access for low-income families, broadband privacy, prison-phone justice, media diversity and more."
Pai will have to be confirmed by the Senate, which likely won't be a problem given the GOP majority.