FCC boss Ajit Pai gets second term despite net neutrality rollback plans

3 Oct 2017

Ajit Pai will be sticking around for another while. Image: US Department of Agriculture/Flickr

Four more years for the controversial figurehead as the US Senate votes to reconfirm his position.

Ajit Pai is a polarising figure in US politics, who has made clear that he wants to see significant rollbacks of current US net neutrality rules, and a relaxation of regulations around media ownership.

In May, the FCC, led by Pai, voted two-to-one to advance a Trump administration plan to reverse the 2015 net neutrality order laid down during the Obama era.

Criticism of Pai’s plans

Binning the net neutrality rules would turn telecoms firms and ISPs into gatekeepers with the ability to throttle services, from streaming to social media. Pai’s stance has been widely criticised by Democrats, who used a floor debate last week (28 September) to criticise him.

Senator Bill Nelson said: “The vast majority of the actions of chairman Pai have served to eliminate competitive protections, threaten dangerous industry consolidation, make the internet less free and less open, and weaken critical consumer protections for those most vulnerable.”

Nelson also lambasted Pai for making it harder for poor Americans to buy subsidised broadband by making changes to a federal assistance programme called Lifeline, which gave families a subsidy to purchase home internet or mobile broadband.

Clear party line split in Senate vote

Yesterday (2 October), the US Senate voted to keep Pai for four more years, with a clear party line split apparent in the polling results according to Ars Technica.

48 Republican senators voted to retain Pai, with 4 Democrats also choosing to keep him as chair. All 41 votes against Pai were cast by Democrat senators.

On hearing the news, Pai said: “I am deeply grateful to the US Senate for confirming my nomination to serve a second term at the FCC, and to President Trump for submitting that nomination to the Senate.

“Since January, the commission has focused on bridging the digital divide, promoting innovation, protecting consumers and public safety, and making the FCC more open and transparent. With today’s vote, I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to advance these critical priorities in the time to come.”

Verizon came out in support of Pai before the vote was cast. The telecoms company had previously employed Pai from 2001 to 2003. Senior vice-president Will Johnson said: “The chairman is clearly qualified, and we hope the Senate will soon confirm his renomination.”

Ajit Pai will be sticking around for another while. Image: US Department of Agriculture/Flickr

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects