Trump will make a vocal opponent of today’s ‘open internet’ laws the next FCC boss, says report

Ajit pai fcc
FCC commissioner Ajit Pai (R) and former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Getty/Chip Somodevilla

President Donald Trump plans to name Ajit Pai as his head of the Federal Communications Commission, according to a report from Politico’s Alex Byers and Tony Romm.

Pai has served as a GOP commissioner at the FCC since 2012, and was widely expected to at least be named interim chairman after outgoing boss Tom Wheeler announced he would depart the agency on Inauguration Day.

Politico’s report, however, says that Pai will be named Wheeler’s official replacement. A formal announcement could come as soon as Friday, according to the report. Pai would be able to take the mantle immediately, since he was already been confirmed by the Senate as a commissioner under Barack Obama.

Spokesmen for Pai and the FCC did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

While expected, the appointment would align with previous signs that Trump’s FCC would usher in a rollback of Obama-era policies, most notably the 2015 Open Internet Order, which set today’s net neutrality rules in place.

Broadly speaking, those laws regulate the internet as a public utility. More practically, they’re meant to keep internet service providers from blocking or slowing down certain Internet content — which could in turn help services owned by an ISP itself — or forcing others to pay fees to receive preferential treatment. Larger telecom companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T have generally opposed the 2015 laws’ passing, while smaller ISPs and internet companies like Netflix and Google, among others, have expressed support.

Pai has vocally dissented from most of Wheeler’s policies, however, and, along with fellow Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly, voted against the net neutrality order in 2015. Instead, he has maintained a strong desire to deregulate telecoms companies, and lessen the reach of the FCC as a whole.

In a December speech to the conservative-leaning Free State Foundation, for instance, Pai said he is “more confident than ever” that the current net neutrality law’s “days are numbered,” and that he’d like the future FCC to “fire up the weed whacker” and remove numerous regulations currently in place.

A recent report from Broadcasting & Cable said that Trump’s FCC transition team is aiming to follow along those lines by removing some the FCC’s regulatory powers and shifting them to other agencies like the Federal Trade Commission. Wheeler has said that such moves could dramatically lessen large ISPs’ ability to be affected by federal oversight.

If named chairman, Pai would take control of a shorthanded FCC to start, with O’Rielly and Democrat Mignon Clyburn representing the only commissioners. Trump will have to determine another Democrat and Republican to fill out the agency over the coming months. If Pai is named Wheeler’s official replacement, however, it would allow him and the Republican-led Senate to put their plans in motion as soon as possible, according to Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Like Wheeler before him, Pai has spent time directly serving telecom interests, having worked as a lawyer for Verizon from 2001 to 2003. (Notably, he’s also been a staffer for Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, a close Trump aide and the current pick for Attorney General.) If he follows through on his past rhetoric, though, his FCC is likely to take a sharp turn from what we’ve seen in the past four years.

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