The federal government has started to adjust to the reality of Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President on January 20th. A lot of things are going to change that day, including the leadership of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Current Chairman Ajit Pai has announced he will resign from the commission on that day. “It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years,” Pai said, announcing his departure.
Ajit Pai began his career as a lawyer in the Department of Justice and at Verizon. In 2011, he joined the FCC under Obama as one of the commission’s Republican members. The FCC has a long tradition of balance with the party holding the presidency nominating three commissioners and the other party getting two. When Donald Trump took over in 2017, Pai was elevated to Chairman, and he did all the things people expected him to do.
Within a year, Pai had led the new Republican majority of the commission to roll back the Title II reclassification enacted under Chairman Wheeler in 2015. That effectively killed net neutrality for the duration of the Trump administration. And this wasn’t a by-the-books policy change for the FCC. Pai gave interviews and wrote extensively on his rationale for the change — he even participated in a rather tasteless net neutrality parody video with The Daily Caller (see above). Despite a bomb threat during the December 2017 vote, Pai succeeded in reversing net neutrality. Subsequently, he and fellow Republican commissioner Brendan Carr advocated for FCC regulation of social media.
Pai also oversaw the merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, accepting the argument that this deal was necessary to accelerate 5G deployments in the US. Sprint is now being slowly digested by T-Mobile, which has access to a mountain of 2.5GHz spectrum that’s ideal for 5G. That’s a problem for Verizon and AT&T, both of which are lacking strong mid-band spectrum for 5G.
Partisanship was a hallmark of Pai’s tenure running the FCC, but the commission also took action that everyone can get behind. The FCC supported efforts to roll out robocall blocking in 2018, and earlier this year it created a national 988 suicide prevention hotline.
The President-Elect’s team has yet to talk about its plans for the FCC, but Pai’s departure makes things easier. On January 20th, President Biden can designate a new Chairperson, and the smart money is on long-time commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
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