President Donald Trump has appointed Ajit Pai to the position of chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Pai, a former Verizon lawyer and head of the Republican Party position at the FCC, had previously opposed net neutrality, a cornerstone of former chairman Tom Wheeler’s career.
The death of neutrality
“During the Trump administration, we will shift from playing defense at the FCC to going on offense,” Pai said in December. “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.”
In early 2015, after significant grassroots activism, the Obama adminstration outlawed certain traffic management policies, preventing the division of networks into ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ in a major endorsement of net neutrality.
At the time, Pai criticized the move, adding that consumers would be worse off and should “expect their bills to go up, and they should expect that broadband will be slower going forward.”
Talking to the Washington Examiner that year, he said: “My hope is that the FCC will finally focus on what really matters to the American consumer, which is broadband deployment and competition, as opposed to one-size-fits-all utility-style regulation addressing ephemeral concerns that net neutrality advocates have consistently talked about.”
While his appointment has been met with concern by consumer groups, telecoms companies have reacted positively.
“Chairman Pai will work with his fellow commissioners to quickly and decisively put back in place the commonsense regulatory framework necessary to support the president’s agenda,” AT&T said.
Industry trade group US Telecom added that it shares Pai’s vision for a “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.”
President of advocacy group Free Press, Craig Aaron, told Reuters that Pai “has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure. He’s never met a mega-merger he didn’t like or a public safeguard he didn’t try to undermine.”
Speaking earlier this week at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Tom Wheeler was also critical of reported plans to restructure the FCC.
It is thought that the Trump administration wishes to move aspects like competition and consumer protection to other federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission.
“It makes no sense,” Wheeler said. “We are talking about 1/6 of the economy, but more importantly, we are talking about the networks that connect 6/6 of the economy.”