Net Neutrality Basher Ajit Pai Reportedly Close To Being Named FCC Chairman

Image courtesy of FCC.gov

As we mentioned more than a month ago, conservative FCC firebrand Ajit Pai was among the most likely candidates to be appointed as Commission’s chairman following the exit of now-former Chair Tom Wheeler. Now comes a report claiming that Pai will soon be handed the reins of an agency whose recent policies he openly opposed.

Politico reports that Pai met with President Trump earlier this week at Trump’s office in New York City, and that the administration could name him as Chair as early as today. Because Pai is already a sitting FCC Commissioner, he would not need to go through the process again to be elevated to Chair.

What To Expect

When Wheeler became FCC Chair in 2013, no one knew quite what to expect from him, given that his previous experience had included heading up the lobbying arms of both the cable and wireless industries.

The same won’t be true for Pai, who has made no effort to conceal his anti-regulation, pro-business positions during his nearly five years as a Commissioner.

“We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” he said at a recent Free State Foundation event about the future of the FCC.

Pai’s penchant for colorful metaphors was also on display when he voiced his opposition to the FCC’s efforts to overturn some state-level restrictions on government-owned broadband services.

“Unfortunately for the Commission, all the lipstick in the world can’t disguise this pig,” he said at the time.

But he saved some of his most vicious — and questionably truthful — remarks for his comments on Net Neutrality and the FCC’s reclassification of broadband as a piece of vital communications infrastructure.

On the day in Feb. 2015 when the FCC voted to approve these rules, Pai spent a full 30 minutes railing against the regulation, repeatedly politicizing it by referring to Net Neutrality as “Obama’s plan to regulate the internet,” and claiming that new taxes and fees were coming, even though the rule does not allow for such charges.

The passing of the Net Neutrality rules only seemed to embolden Pai, who claimed — in spite of evidence to the contrary — that the new regulations had resulted in “market failure.”

“The FCC should only adopt a regulation if it determines that its benefits outweigh its costs,” Pai has said, though it’s unclear exactly what he means by “costs.”

Pai seemed to have a problem with virtually everything the FCC did under the Obama administration. A rule to help block robocalls?

“The primary beneficiaries will be trial lawyers, not American consumers,” he argued in his vote against that rule, inexplicably using a creepy example of a guy who’s sued for texting a girl who doesn’t like him.

New privacy rules for broadband service? Pai complained that the FCC was unfairly going after internet service providers and not content companies (even though the FCC has the authority to regulate the former, and not the latter).

Most recently, he felt compelled to unleash on an FCC Wireless Bureau report that concluded — without any sort of penalty or enforcement action — that AT&T may be violating Net Neutrality guidelines with its program that doesn’t charge AT&T wireless customers for access to DirecTV Now streaming video data.

Pai referred to it as “midnight regulation” (even though no regulation took place) and, without explanation, a “regulatory spasm,” all the while acknowledging that it was pointless because a new administration was coming into the White House.

The potential new FCC Chair is not beloved by many consumer and privacy advocates.

“Ajit Pai has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure,” Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron told Politico. “He’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, media diversity and more.”

The Harvard- and University of Chicago-educated Pai has actually been with the FCC in some capacity for most of the last decade, starting in 2007 as an attorney. After a brief stint in the private sector, he was eventually nominated by President Obama to fill one of the five Commissioner spots.

Before joining the FCC, Pai worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department, and spent two years as Associate General Counsel for Verizon.