Ajit Pai named FCC Chairman

Things indeed will be different

As expected, President Trump announced Monday he has appointed current FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai as FCC Chairman, succeeding Tom Wheeler, who stepped down January 20th.

The move is great for big tech and media corporations given Pai’s free-market stance and promises a living hell for consumer advocates and net neutrality supporters.

Pai was nominated to the FCC by then-President Obama, one of two Republicans on the commission. With the departure of Wheeler and fellow commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC currently stands 2-1 with Republican Michael O’Rielly and Democrat Mignon Clyburn remaining. The President is expected to nominate two more officials to the commission – one Republican and one Democrat in the coming months.

So far, Pai has wasted no time in preparing for his chairmanship – he announced staff appointments and an acting general counsel, appointing Brendan Carr to the role. Carr served as Pai’s wireless, public safety, and international legal adviser.

Born to immigrants who were from India, Pai grew up in Parsons, Kansas, in the Joplin, Mo-Pittsburg, KS (DMA 146) market. His credentials include graduating from Harvard University in 1994, The University of Chicago Law School in 1997, and was counsel for Verizon, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the FCC. He was appointed to the FCC to serve as a commissioner in 2011.

During his time as FCC commissioner, Pai has often clashed with Wheeler on many issues, including net neutrality and station ownership, among other issues. And as a free-market advocate, he was very supportive of big media mergers, including the aborted Comcast-Time Warner Cable marriage.

Reaction to Pai’s ascension was plentiful – and glowing from opponents of his predecessor. The National Association of Broadcasters, Parents Television Council (yeah, there’s an unlikely pair), and The National Cable Television Association were among the ones welcoming Pai with open arms, while more liberal groups – notably consumer advocate group Public Knowledge slammed the decision.

More neutral reaction came from the likes of the American Cable Association and the Communications Workers of America.

As yours truly noted a few weeks ago, expect a huge change from the previous administration – in addition to the likely elimination of net neutrality and more big media mergers, look for more deregulation of the media business – including the loosening – or perhaps the elimination of television ownership caps.

And Pai is a huge supporter of terrestrial radio – particularly on the AM side. This is particularly sweet news for the likes of struggling radio conglomerates iHeartMedia, Cumulus, CBS Radio and Hubbard, given Pai’s support of media consolidation (which is really bad news for radio listeners – for those who still care.)

Plus, don’t look for what happened in Norway recently to happen here – the shutdown of FM Radio analog signals and converting to digital (in Norway, there is no AM radio to speak of.) The NAB would raise holy hell.

In his first speech since becoming FCC Chairman, Pai pledged to help close the digital divide. “One of the most significant things that I’ve seen during my time here is that there is a digital divide in this country—between those who can use cutting-edge communications services and those who do not. I believe one of our core priorities going forward should be to close that divide.”

As Broadcasting & Cable noted, he hopes the private sector would do much of the work to do so.

In closing Pai said, “I hope my tenure as Chairman will show me to be worthy of the sacrifices they’ve made for me and the lessons they’ve taught me. And I’m ever grateful that this wonderful country has given me and my family the opportunity to
dream big.Thank you again for your support. Now, it’s time to get started! I’m excited to get to work alongside you on behalf of the American people.”

We wish Pai luck. And we will be watching.