Amidst the torrent of news and announcements and wailing and gnashing of teeth that has come since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, here’s another shitty thing: Ajit Pai, an enemy of net neutrality and overall opponent of regulation, will be Trump’s pick to lead the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC announced today.
In a statement, Pai said he looked 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 has served as a commissioner on the FCC since 2012.
Rumors of the appointment were first reported by Politico. According to agency rules, Pai can serve as chair up to the end of 2017 without Senate confirmation.
The FCC is a five-member body that regulates cable, radio, satellite, TV, and the internet, with oversight on issues like media company mergers and net neutrality. Trump has not made many public statements on net neutrality, but once tweeted that it was a “top down power grab” by Obama, and would “target conservative media.” Trump has hedged on another issue that would go before the FCC under Pai, a proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner, initially saying it was “a deal we will not approve” but then claiming he hadn’t “seen all the facts.”
Pai was a lawyer for Verizon Communications between 2001 and 2003, where he worked on “regulatory issues, trial and appellate litigation matters, antitrust issues, counseling of business executives, internal compliance issues, and advocacy for the company.” (Advocacy is frequently used as a euphemism for lobbying in DC; there are easily-avoided rules about who has to technically register as a lobbyist.) He later worked for Senators Sam Brownback and Jeff Sessions on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and was a general counsel at the FCC in the Bush administration.
In 2011, he moved to work as an associate counsel for law firm Jenner & Block, which had previously registered to lobby on behalf of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Time Warner, before leaving to become an FCC commissioner in 2012. Jenner & Block later represented Charter Communications to the FCC in its $90 billion merger with the widely-loathed Time Warner Cable; the firm’s site boasts that it “defeated challenges to the deal from an array of opponents, including competitors and public interest groups.”
One of the lead lawyers on the case was Sam Feder, Pai’s former coworker at both Jenner & Block and his previous stint at the FCC, who praised him as having “a unique insight into the changes that are occurring in the industry, both in the market and in government regulation.”
As a commissioner, Pai voted against the merger—not because he objected to the merger itself, but because he thought the restrictions on the companies in the deal were too harsh, describing them as “the forced tribute that the company must offer to mollify the Capitol.” The appointed government regulator complained, “Chairman Wheeler’s order isn’t about competition, competition, competition; it’s about regulation, regulation, regulation.”
Pai is a notorious enemy of net neutrality, and has indicated that he will work to reverse the relatively new net neutrality rules as chairman. He once warned that adopting net neutrality rules would “embolden” countries like China that are “testing the waters to see how much they can get away with” in regulating the internet. He also voted against a recent ruling preventing ISPs from sharing consumer data like browsing history and usage data without explicit permission.
Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press, said in a statement:
“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.”
And lo, on the first day, President Donald Trump did not drain the swamp.