Appointed by President Donald Trump to lead the FCC in the wake of Chairman Tom Wheeler’s resignation, Chairman Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, is wasting no time to dismantle an array of rules and regulations pushed through by the Obama administration. In the past week, Chairman Pai has passed a dozen actions meant to reverse much of his predecessor’s work and to shift the focus of the FCC toward deregulation. Chairman Pai was a vocal critic of his predecessor’s actions, most notably in regards to what he saw as overreach by his agency. Among the rules and regulations on the chopping block under Chairman Pai are Net Neutrality, which has been a controversial and politically charged set of rules.
First on his list of to-do’s as chairman of the FCC, Pai passed an action to overturn a series of regulations passed by the Obama administration at the 11th hour of its tenure. In a statement about his actions to reverse the so-called Midnight Regulations, Chairman Pai explained, “In the waning days of the last Administration, the Federal Communications Commission’s Bureaus and Offices released a series of controversial orders and reports. In some cases, Commissioners were given no advance notice whatsoever of these midnight regulations. In other cases, they were issued over the objection of two of the four Commissioners. And in all cases, their release ran contrary to the wishes expressed by the leadership of our congressional oversight committees. These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of Commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward. Accordingly, they are being revoked.” Regulations facing changes include FCC certifications and oversight rules.
With the Midnight Regulations overturned, Chairman Pai turned his attention to an ongoing investigation of the carriers AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, all three of which had implemented a service called zero-rating streaming. Zero-rating streaming is a service where a carrier offers a specific video streaming service without counting it against a wireless consumer’s data usage. For example, AT&T offered zero-rating streaming of DirecTV, meaning AT&T customers could watch DirecTV without running up their data usage. The FCC saw these services as a violation of Net Neutrality rules because they were seen as putting other video streaming services at a competitive disadvantage.
On ending the investigation into zero-rating services, Chairman Pai explained, “Today, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is closing its investigation into wireless carriers’ free-data offerings. These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.”
While his action to end the investigation suggests Chairman Pai is poised to dismantle Net Neutrality rules, he will inevitably face legal hurdles. Since a federal court upheld Net Neutrality rules last year, their permanence beyond the Obama administration have taken hold. How Chairman Pai approaches the subject of overturning Net Neutrality is unknown, though he has not been shy about his intent to do so.
Opposition to Chairman Pai in the wake of his first week of actions is quickly mounting. A recent article by the New York Times has stirred the proverbial pot by raising alarm over the Chairman’s first week in office. Said Matt Wood, policy director at the consumer group Free Press, in the New York Times article: “With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes. The public wants an F.C.C. that helps people. Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”
President Trump has vowed to make big changes in Washington. Through Chairman Pai, this work has already begun in full force. Said Chairman Pai in a statement about his appointment by President Trump, “Now that we’ve made the transition, where do we go from here? Well, I have no doubt we’re going to be busy. There are a lot of challenging issues on our plate.”