President Donald Trump has named Ajit Pai as the 34th chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Pai confirmed the appointment on Twitter on Monday. Politico’s Alex Byers and Tony Romm first reported the news last week.
Pai has served as a GOP commissioner at the FCC since 2012. He was widely expected to at least be named interim chairman after outgoing boss Tom Wheeler announced he would depart the agency on Inauguration Day.
Pai, however, has been named Wheeler’s official replacement. Pai will be able to take the mantle immediately since he has already been confirmed by the Senate as a commissioner under Barack Obama’s administration.
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) January 23, 2017
Broadly speaking, those laws regulate the internet as a public utility. More practically, they’re meant to keep internet service providers from blocking or slowing down certain content – which could benefit services owned by an ISP itself – or forcing others to pay fees to receive preferential treatment.
Larger telecom companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T have generally opposed the 2015 law, while smaller ISPs and internet companies like Netflix and Google, among others, have expressed support.
Pai has vocally dissented from most of Wheeler’s policies, however, and, along with fellow Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly, he voted against the net-neutrality order in 2015. He also opposed Wheeler’s proposed reform of the set-top-box market.
Instead, he has maintained a strong desire to deregulate telecoms companies and lessen the reach of the FCC as a whole – a view that has often sat favorably with large ISPs.
In a December speech to the conservative-leaning Free State Foundation, for instance, Pai said he was “more confident than ever” that the current net-neutrality law’s “days are numbered,” and that he’d like the future FCC to “fire up the weed wacker” and remove numerous regulations currently in place.
A recent report from Multichannel News said that Trump’s FCC transition team is aiming to follow along those lines by removing some of the FCC’s regulatory powers and shifting them to other agencies like the Federal Trade Commission. Wheeler has said that such moves could dramatically lessen the ability of large ISPs to be affected by federal oversight.
Pai will take control of a shorthanded FCC to start, with O’Rielly and Democrat Mignon Clyburn the only commissioners. Trump will have to name another Democrat and another Republican to fill out the agency.
Pai, with the help of the Republican-led Senate, is now in a position to put their plans in motion as soon as possible, according to Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. Any changes to net neutrality laws and the like would take months, though, and include a period of public comment.
Like Wheeler, Pai has spent time directly serving telecom interests, having worked as a lawyer for Verizon from 2001 to 2003. (Notably, he’s also a former staffer for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a close Trump aide and Trump’s pick for attorney general.)
If he follows through on his past rhetoric, however, his FCC is likely to take a sharp turn from what we’ve seen in the past four years.