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Trump Taps Net Neutrality Foe Ajit Pai to Head FCC

(FCC photo)

President Donald Trump on Monday named Ajit Pai, the senior Republican serving on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to head the agency charged with regulating the nation’s telecommunications.

Pai, 44, has been with the FCC for five years and previously served as legal clerk to a federal judge, senior counsel to two US Senators and as a senior Justice Department lawyer, is a staunch opponent of what he believes is unnecessary regulation — which includes a landmark ruling bolstering net neutrality by reclassifying Internet service providers (ISPs) as public utilities.

The 2015 ruling followed a pitched battle between the FCC’s then-liberal majority on one side and Pai and fellow conservative commissioner Michael O’Rielly on the other. Under the leadership of former Chairman Tom Wheeler, the new rules, which were meant to prevent ISPs from offering customers Internet “fast lanes” or throttling bandwidth for others. Pai strongly dissented. “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,” he argued at the time.

“We… need to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations,” Pai said in a speech in December. “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.”

Net neutrality advocates believe Pai will move to weaken net neutrality in the near future, pointing to a December 2016 letter he, O’Rielly and ISP lobbyists wrote vowing to “revisit… the Title II Net Neutrality proceeding… as soon as possible.”

“Throughout his tenure at the FCC, Commissioner Pai has been a steadfast opponent of net neutrality and consumer privacy rules, and a rubber stamp for mega-mergers,” Sarah Morris, director of open Internet policy for New America’s Open Technology Institute, said in a statement. “His anti-regulatory agenda is a gift to telecom lobbyists and a major threat to consumers, small businesses, and the American economy.” Morris was referring to the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger, which Pai supports but opponents call a dangerous concentration of power between content producers and distributors.

“Ajit Pai has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure,” Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the advocacy group Free Press, said in a statement. “Pai has been an effective obstructionist who has always been eager to push out what the new presidential administration might call alternative facts in defense of the corporate interests he used to represent in the private sector.”

ISPs cheered Pai’s nomination. “This is a terrific appointment for the American consumer and the companies the FCC regulates and we look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Pai in his new role,” Comcast’s senior executive vice president David Cohen said in a statement that called the new chairman “highly qualified to lead.”

Pai released a statement saying he is looking 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.”

“There is so much we can do together to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans and to promote innovation and investment,” Pai also tweeted. “From broadband to broadcast, I believe in a 21st-century version of Jefferson’s 2nd Inaugural: we are all Republicans, we are all Democrats.”

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