Three Things to Know About New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

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Ajit Pai has been appointed as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday after speculation that President Donald Trump would designate Pai to the role, previously held by Tom Wheeler, a Democrat.

Republican Pai was a long-time Washington lawyer who also worked in the Senate and at Verizon before becoming an FCC commissioner in 2012, according to NPR.

Pai announced staff appointments (PDF) to his office on Tuesday.

Here are three things to know about Pai as he enters the FCC chairman role:

Ajit Pai

Ajit Pai, c/o FCC.gov

Title II Classification is on the Clock

Pai voted against former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s controversial net neutrality rules, largely on procedural grounds and called the application of utility regulations to internet service providers “a solution that wouldn’t work for a problem that didn’t exist.” He also said at the time that the Title II order would eventually be overturned, whether by the courts, Congress, or a future Commission.

Despite the measures being upheld in federal court, Wheeler has already warned that the Commission may reverse its course with dire consequences. The use of Title II, as a means of enforcing net neutrality is not necessarily the same issue as net neutrality itself, as Forbes reports, though Pai has not indicated any intention of substituting a different means.

Taking the Offensive on Deregulation

A speech delivered shortly after the election by Pai to the Free State Foundation (PDF) gives several indications of his intentions as head of the internet regulator.

Citing an opinion written by the Free State Foundation’s Mike Horney, Pai has said that the regulatory job of the FCC is to address market failures or systematic problems. With that criteria in mind, he says that “during the Trump Administration, we will shift from playing defense at the FCC to going on offense.”

Pai told the Free State Foundation that “the regulatory underbrush at the FCC is thick. We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.” Since Pai voted in the minority on many recent FCC decisions, the newest regulatory underbrush could be the first whacked.

“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 telecom advocacy group USTelecom in a statement on Pai’s appointment.

A Market Approach to Expanding Broadband Access

As a native of rural Kansas, Pai has a plan for expanding broadband internet access in rural America. In September, he described a market-oriented approach based on financial incentives for internet service providers and  tax incentives for startups, the Morning Consult reports.

Pai also expressed support for a court decision blocking the FCC attempt to overrule Tennessee and North Carolina state regulations governing municipal broadband networks in 2015. The FCC’s move would have allowed the projects to expand to neighboring areas, but the court, and Pai, considered it an overreach of authority.

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