Pai Says He’s ‘Grateful’ to Be Designated FCC Chairman

January 23, 2017–FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said today that he is “grateful” that President Trump has designated him the permanent Chairman of the Commission, succeeding Tom Wheeler, who departed Jan. 20. Mr. Pai’s appointment drew praise from industry and other players and criticism from public interest advocates. “I am deeply grateful to the President of the United States for designating me the 34th Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission,” Mr. Pai said in a one-paragraph statement released late this afternoon. “I look 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.”

Mr. Trump today signed the necessary document designating Mr. Pai as the Chairman. Mr. Pai met with Mr. Trump last week at Trump Tower in New York (TRDaily, Jan. 17). Although the senior Republican Commissioner had been expected by some to be named acting Chairman given his seniority, it was not clear if the president would give him the job permanently.

Because Mr. Pai is already a Commissioner, he does not need Senate confirmation to be Chairman. However, his seat officially expired in June 2016, so he would need to be reconfirmed by the end of next year’s second session of the 115th Congress in order to remain a Commissioner. Mr. Pai, who became a Commissioner in 2012 and whose background includes stints in staff positions at the FCC, Justice Department, and on Capitol Hill and jobs in the private sector, will start with a 2-1 majority, with two of the Commissioner seats empty.

Mr. Pai, like Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, has been a harsh critic of a number of FCC actions that he says would hurt competition and consumers, including the FCC’s open Internet rules (and an FCC staff zero-rating inquiry) and its broadband privacy order. He was also critical of proposals for new set-top box and business data services rules. More generally, Mr. Pai is expected to push a deregulatory agenda and also has called for reform of the FCC’s processes.

At a Washington luncheon last month (TRDaily, Dec. 7, 2016), Mr. Pai said he was optimistic that the election of Mr. Trump “will prove to be an inflection point—and that during the Trump administration, we will shift from playing defense at the FCC to going on offense.” Mr. Pai reiterated his complaint that the open Internet order failed to identify a market failure or include a cost-benefit analysis, saying that “proof of market failure should guide the next Commission’s consideration of new regulations. And the FCC should only adopt a regulation if it determines that its benefits outweigh its costs.”

He said he’s “more confident than ever” in his prediction on the day the FCC adopted its open Internet order that its “days are numbered” (TRDaily, Feb. 26, 2015). “I’m also optimistic that the FCC will once again respect the limits that Congress has placed on our authority,” he said. “We can’t simply enact whatever we think is good public policy. We also have to make sure that we have the power to do so. But the Commission hasn’t done a very good job of that recently.”

As one example, he cited the FCC’s municipal broadband order, which was overturned in court last year (TRDaily, Aug. 10, 2016). “In the months to come, we also need to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations,” Mr. Pai said. “As anyone who has attempted to take a quick spin through Part 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations could tell you, 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.” He also called for more FCC “openness and transparency.”

During his tenure as a Commissioner, Mr. Pai has been vocal on an array of specific issues. For example, last year he unveiled a digital empowerment agenda, calling for the creation of “Gigabit Opportunity Zones,” increased wireless build-out obligations, set-asides of spectrum auction revenues to support mobile broadband deployment in rural areas, and putting “teeth” in the FCC’s wireless-siting shot-clock by adopting a “deemed-granted” provision when the clock runs out (TRDaily, Sept. 13, 2016).

On public safety, he has pushed the lodging and multi-line telephone system (MLTS) equipment industries to make changes to ensure that people can reach 911 call centers without having to first dial “9,” and he has sought FCC action to help address contraband cellphones in correctional facilities.

“I offer my sincere congratulations and best wishes to my friend and colleague, Commissioner Ajit Pai, for being designated as Chair of the FCC,” Mr. O’Rielly said in a statement today. “His thoughtful approach, deep knowledge base, and sense of humor have been great assets to the Commission, and it makes sense that President Trump hand-picked him to carry out the new Administration’s broad vision for the agency. I know the Commission will thrive under his leadership, and I look forward to working with him and his team to tackle the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities that will present themselves.”

“I congratulate Commissioner Ajit Pai on being named Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission,” Democratic Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn said. “Ajit is bright, driven and committed to bringing connectivity to all Americans. I am hopeful that we can come together to serve the public interest by supporting competition, public safety, and consumer protection.”

Most outside parties praised Mr. Trump’s decision to designate Mr. Pai as Chairman, although public interest advocates criticized Mr. Pai’s tenure.

“Today we welcome a new era of leadership and decision making at the FCC,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R., Ore.) and communications subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.). “Commissioner Pai’s expertise on the issues has been well documented  and we’re looking forward to working with him to advance conservative, thoughtful solutions at the FCC.”

Full committee ranking member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D., N.J.) and communications subcommittee ranking member Mike Doyle (D., Pa.) congratulated Mr. Pai in a letter and asked him to make three commitments to Congress.

They asked him to (1) “ensure that the Commission will brief relevant Committee leadership—no matter their party—on all major decisions before the Commission acts and that you will be responsive to all Congressional inquiries”; (2) “work with your colleagues in a bi-partisan fashion to reach consensus before moving ahead with major policy decisions”; and (3) “not take any effort to retaliate against, undermine, demote or marginalize civil servants on the basis of their analysis or their work under previous Commission leadership.”

“Commissioner Pai is well known for his intellectual rigor, passion for innovative ideas and technologies, and adherence to the letter and spirit of the law,” said Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R., S.D.). “I enjoy his can-do attitude, admire his principled transparency, and share his commitment to rural communities. I look forward to working with him as he steps into his new role as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.”

“As an FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai has demonstrated his commitment to empowering consumers through a free and vibrant market,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust, competition policy, and consumer rights subcommittee. “As a new member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I appreciate Chairman Pai’s desire to reform our anachronistic technology and telecommunications laws, and I look forward to working with him in identifying ways Congress can unleash American innovation and promote competition to benefit consumers.”

“We need an FCC that protects consumers, promotes competition, and spurs innovation,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. “I will vigorously oppose any efforts by leadership at the FCC to undo net neutrality and broadband privacy rules, undermine E-Rate, or roll back any fundamental consumer protections.”

“No one is more prepared to reframe the agency to address the needs of this rapidly changing marketplace,” said Bob Quinn, senior executive vice president-external & legislative affairs for AT&T, Inc. “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 for job creation, innovation and investment.”

Kathy Grillo, Verizon Communications, Inc.’s senior vice president-public policy and government affairs, said that Mr. Pai “has been a strong advocate of smart, forward-looking policies in the communications space, a steadfast supporter of issues including broadband expansion, particularly in rural areas, and a proponent of innovation and new ideas that will benefit consumers and the nation as a whole. We believe Chairman Pai truly knows and understands the issues facing our industry, and is a critical thinker who will look for ways to help communications and technology companies fuel growth in the American economy.”

U.S. Telecom Association President and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Spalter said, “Ajit Pai is an exceptional choice to head the Federal Communications Commission. He’s a thoughtful, forward-looking and energetic leader who has never forgotten his roots in rural Kansas, and the need to deliver high-speed broadband access to all parts of our country. 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.”

“During his tenure on the Commission, Chairman Pai has consistently demonstrated a common-sense philosophy that consumers are best served by a robust marketplace that encourages investment, innovation and competition,” said NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell, a former FCC Chairman. “We stand ready to assist Chairman Pai and his colleagues in their effort to promote policies which ensure that America remains a global internet, communications and entertainment leader.”

“During his time on the Commission, he has championed spectrum and infrastructure reform and is a leading voice for a common sense approach to open internet and privacy,” said CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker. “We applaud Chairman Pai’s work and vision including his Digital Empowerment Agenda and its promise of reducing regulatory barriers to broadband deployment and expanding opportunities for innovation and economic growth across the country. We look forward to working with Chairman Pai and the FCC to secure America’s position as a global wireless leader.”

“CCA fully supports the nomination of Commissioner Pai as the next Chairman of the FCC,” said Steve Berry, president and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association. “Commissioner Pai is an avowed believer in creating a regulatory environment that encourages investment and innovation, and strongly believes in policies that respect the technological changes of today’s marketplace. He has made his office open to CCA members, and with his roots in Kansas, certainly understands the importance of ensuring high-speed mobile broadband all across the country, including rural areas.”

“He has just the right expertise and experience to make an outstanding Chairman. WIA is especially thrilled that he fully appreciates that wireless infrastructure is the foundation that delivers the innovative applications we use daily, as well as life-altering broadband services like telemedicine, distance learning, and improved public safety,” said Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association. “Chairman Pai is a strong champion of wireless broadband deployment.  As Commissioner, he advocated for pole attachment rule reform, improved siting on federal lands, ‘dig once’ policies, and tightened shot clocks that will help ensure high-speed broadband infrastructure gets deployed quickly and efficiently. He has a record of success that has achieved very tangible benefits for consumers and the U.S. economy in general. We expect that under his leadership, the FCC will encourage more investment in building our wireless networks.”

Telecommunications Industry Association Board Chairman and interim CEO David Heard said, “Commissioner Pai is a vocal advocate for restoring the light-touch regulatory approach that spurred hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in broadband, and TIA welcomes his leadership on this issue as Chairman. It is essential that U.S. policies encourage and support investment in the communications infrastructure that is the underpinning of 5G wireless networks and the Internet of Things if we are to achieve the full potential of these technologies. Doing so will not only allow our tech and telecom industries to thrive, it will strengthen the U.S. economy and create more high-skilled jobs.”

Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, said, “5G Americas looks forward to working with the FCC’s next Chairman on the important goals of providing more wireless spectrum to broadband consumers, as well as securing a leadership role for the United States in 5G.”

Diane Smith, interim chair of Mobile Future, said, “As FCC Chairman, Commissioner Pai will be a champion of consumers in all corners of the country during this time of profound wireless innovation. His forward-thinking leadership will be instrumental in expanding the infrastructure needed to support the opportunity-rich transition to a 5G future. We are confident he will maintain a razor-sharp focus on creating an environment that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship, and have no doubt the FCC will be a catalyst for progress under his chairmanship.”

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, called Mr. Pai “a champion for innovation, leading the way on key issues that impact the growth of our modern communications networks, ensuring consumers’ access to those networks in underserved areas and cautioning against unnecessary, growth-chilling regulation.”

“We congratulate Ajit Pai on his appointment as Chair of the Federal Communications Commission. He has served with great distinction as a Commissioner over the past four and a half years, and has demonstrated that he is highly qualified to lead the Commission,” said David Cohen, senior EVP and chief diversity officer for Comcast Corp. “We commend his tireless efforts to develop and support policies that benefit American consumers and spur greater investment and innovation in broadband technologies to connect all Americans and drive job creation.  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.”

“CenturyLink congratulates Ajit Pai on being elevated to FCC chair, a leadership role for which he is extremely well qualified given his thorough understanding of the many challenges facing the rapidly changing communications industry,” said John Jones, CenturyLink, Inc.’s SVP-public policy and government relations. “We look forward to continuing to work with Commissioner Pai, who will bring a much-needed free market approach to his new role. Hopefully this will result in the thoughtful elimination of outdated, unnecessary federal regulations that stifle investment and no longer reflect rapidly evolving consumer demands and the entry of innovative, new competitors.”

“Since joining the commission in 2012, Commissioner Pai has shown a commitment to solving rural broadband challenges and to thinking creatively about ways our country can more effectively deploy and sustain advanced communications in rural America. In an address to the NTCA membership in early 2013, Commissioner Pai was the first of his colleagues to call for universal service to enable broadband services in areas served by our members, and Commissioner Pai has consistently placed a spotlight on the kinds of resources and resourcefulness needed to connect America,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “Having grown up in a small town in Kansas and noting in his address to NTCA members that ‘rural America is different,’ he has a deep and genuine understanding of how the services that NTCA members deliver improve the quality of life and promote economic development in our rural communities.”

Genny Morelli, President of ITTA, said, “Over the course of his tenure at the Commission, Commissioner Pai has proven himself to be a tireless and thoughtful advocate for expanding broadband access to rural America. ITTA looks forward to continuing our work with Chairman Pai as well as Commissioners O’Rielly and Clyburn.”

Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman said, “I have enjoyed working with Chairman Pai over the years and while he doesn’t always agree with our industry on every issue, he is both thoughtful and willing to listen. The internet industry is a significant stakeholder before the FCC and we look forward to a productive working relationship with Chairman Pai. The FCC is charged with preserving a free and open internet and fostering innovation online, and we will continue our work in pursuit of these goals.”

“Chairman Pai brings invaluable experience and insight that is sure to benefit American consumers and businesses through sound policymaking,” said the Internet Innovation Alliance. “IIA looks forward to working with Chairman Pai and the entire Commission on new policies to advance investment and deployment of 21st century, next-generation, high-speed broadband networks.”

“Without qualification, NAB supports President Trump’s selection of Ajit Pai to the position of FCC chairman,” NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said in a statement. “Ajit Pai is a known quantity who brings integrity, good humor and a fierce intellect to the Commission. We look forward to working with him and his colleagues on a pro-growth FCC agenda that benefits tens of millions of Americans who rely on free broadcast radio and TV for the most popular content, credible news, and lifeline local emergency alerts.”

Mark Nielsen, Frontier Communications Corp.’s EVP and general counsel, said that “Commissioner Pai’s commitment to public service, combined with his leadership and deep knowledge of communications law and policy, suggests a bright future for the agency. Frontier looks forward to working with Chairman Pai and the Commission on issues of critical importance to our country, such as expanding broadband deployment in rural America and updating FCC regulations to promote next-generation technologies.”

Catherine Bohigian, EVP-government affairs for Charter Communications, Inc., said that “Chairman Pai’s experience at DOJ, in Congress and especially at the FCC, along with his keen intellect and affable nature, will help him lead the FCC to accomplish great things. He understands that the appropriate amount of regulation enables businesses to grow, adding jobs, spurring  innovation and creating economic growth for  the benefit of consumers and the public interest.  We at Charter congratulate Chairman Pai and look forward to working with him and his fellow Commissioners to implement a pro-investment, pro-broadband deployment agenda to the benefit of consumers in cities and towns across the country.”

T-Mobile US, Inc., President and CEO John Legere tweeted Mr. Pai, “Huge congrats to you!! Well deserved!! Looking forward to continuing to work w/ you to support American wireless consumers.”

“A big time congratulations to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai in his appointment as the FCC Chairman.  And a job well done to his staff which are known to attention to detail and have open ear in problem solving,” said the LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition. “And while the ‘drain the swamp’ refrain is still fresh in the air here in DC, this position is one place where the new administration is wise to select an incumbent.  For LPTV and TV translators this is all good news as our plight, rights, responsibilities, and possibilities are all well known by the new Chairman and his staff.”

“It’s good news heralding the return of a more market-oriented communications policy and a more transparent, efficient, and modest FCC that Ajit Pai will be the next Chairman. I’m excited about the opportunities ahead to reorient communications policy,” said Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation.

Fred Campbell, director of Tech Knowledge, said, “There is no one more qualified to guide the FCC for the next four years. Chairman Pai’s intelligence, experience, and humility will serve the American people well. The future of communications regulation could not be any brighter.”

Derek Poarch, executive director and CEO of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, also welcomed Mr. Pai’s appointment, saying he “has supported many improvements for public safety communications during his time at the Commission, and we look forward to continued progress under his leadership.” But Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron blasted Mr. Pai’s appointment. “Ajit Pai has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure,” he said. “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, prison-phone justice, media diversity and more.

“Pai has been an effective obstructionist who looks out for the corporate interests he used to represent in the private sector. If the new president really wanted an FCC chairman who’d stand up against the runaway media consolidation that Trump himself decried in the AT&T/Time Warner deal, Pai would have been his last choice — though corporate lobbyists across the capital are probably thrilled,” Mr. Aaron added. “Millions of Americans from across the political spectrum have looked to the FCC to protect their rights to connect and communicate and cheered decisions like the historic Net Neutrality ruling, and Pai threatens to undo all of that important work. Those millions will rise up again to oppose his reactionary agenda.”

Gene Kimmelman, President and CEO of Public Knowledge, said, “Commissioner Pai has a history of attacking consumer protections, from the Open Internet order to our right to privacy online. Even so, every Commissioner who has been elevated to Chairman discovers the job is very different from what he or she thought it would be. Most quickly discover that getting things done while running an agency sometimes requires a different set of skills as well as a willingness to compromise. With this in mind, we urge Chairman Pai to preserve consumer protections and to focus on driving down prices and expanding choices for all essential communications services while preserving the Commission’s recent pro-competitive and consumer protection rules and actions.”

Sarah Morris, director-open Internet policy for the New America Foundation’ Open Technology Institute, said, “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. His anti-regulatory agenda is a gift to telecom lobbyists and a major threat to consumers, small businesses, and the American economy. We urge the Commission to remain true to its public interest mandate and resist efforts to roll back vital consumer protections like the Open Internet Order. The American people need an FCC that fights for them, and they will hold this FCC Chairman accountable.”

Carmen Scurato, director- policy and legal affairs for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said, “Chairman Pai’s views have often diverged from those of NHMC and other groups representing the voices of communities of color and vulnerable populations on a number of key telecommunications issues – namely the importance of preserving the open internet, support for critical programs striving for universal access to broadband like Lifeline and E-Rate, the impact of increasing consolidation on the media and telecommunications industries, and the ongoing fight for prison phone justice. NHMC urges Chairman Pai to begin his new term with a commitment to achieving the fundamental goals of the FCC: increasing diversity, enforcing rules that protect consumers, striving for truly universal service, and fostering real competition.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily