Net neutrality critic Ajit Pai named FCC's new chairman by President Trump

Newly-appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai

On Monday, Federal Communications Commission member — and staunch net neutrality opponent — Ajit Pai announced that he’d been named by President Trump to be the agency’s new chairman. Pai has been an ardent opponent of the consumer-friendly regulations put in place by Tom Wheeler, the FCC’s outgoing chairman, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Consumer groups have been bracing for a move like this since Trump won the election. Free Press, a consumer advocacy group that helped push through the Open Internet rules the FCC adopted in 2015, was vehement in its condemnation of the Pai’s nomination. The Drum reported last month that the appointment of two vocal opponents of the policy to his transition team Jeffrey Eisenach and Mark Jamison are best known for their long-standing opposition to net neutrality, which decrees that internet service providers must offer equal access to content and applications, regardless of source, and not prioritize or block specific products or websites.

Eisenach has described this policy as ‘an effort by one set of private interests to enrich itself by using the power of the state to obtain free services from another,' The Drum reported earlier.

“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 CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. “He’s never met a mega-merger he didn’t like or a public safeguard he didn’t try to undermine.”

By contrast, industry groups were quick to praise the appointment.

“Ajit Pai is an exceptional choice to head the Federal Communications Commission,” Jonathan Spalter, CEO of USTelecom, a trade group that represents many of former landline telephone companies, said in a statement. “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.”

White House representatives did not respond to a request for comment and have yet to release a statement confirming Pai’s appointment.

In his own statement, Pai thanked President Trump for nominating him.

“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,” Pai said.

However universal a message that might be, Pai has been a distinctly partisan operator on the FCC since he joined it in 2012. The theme of Pai’s stint on the commission has been to oppose most regulations and to defend corporate freedom and interests.

The former attorney for Verizon voted against the net neutrality rules and the privacy rules the agency put in place for broadband operators last year. He also opposed proposed rules that would have opened up cable set-top boxes to competition from the likes of smart TVs and boxes like Roku’s.

He voted against the merger proposal between Charter Communications and Time-Warner Cable, not because he opposed the conglomeration, but because he opposed the conditions the FCC placed on the companies. More recently, he spoke out against the commission’s determination in the final days of the Obama administration, that certain features of AT&T and Verizon’s wireless services violate net neutrality.

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