Big changes coming to FCC under new chairman Ajit Pai
Among the least reported changes during a presidential transition is the elevation of Republican members of various agencies and commissions who will look to roll back eght years of over-regulation and government meddling.
One of the most important changes will occur at the Federal Communications Commission, where ultra-liberal Tom Wheeler will be replaced as chairman by Commissioner Ajit Pai, a proponent of the free market who is known for his fierce opposition to net neutrality and efforts by Democrats at the FCC to stifle the free speech of the conservative internet.
Pai is currently a commissioner on the FCC board and an outspoken critic of many of the regulations pushed by former Chairman Tom Wheeler, who stepped down Friday.
Most notably, he has been a fierce opponent of the net neutrality rules enshrined in the FCC's Open Internet Order, and all signs point to Republicans gearing up to roll back elements of the regulation.
Pai has had good relations with congressional Republicans and he will be closely watched as he works with House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and his Senate counterpart, Chairman John Thune, (R-S.D.) to undo the many tech and telecom regulations passed under the Obama administration.
But some believe that Pai could also be at odds with the Trump administration on some issues.
Pai is generally lauded by the industry for his anti-regulatory stance, leading many to believe that he will look favorably at the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger if it comes under FCC scrutiny.
But Trump himself came out hard against the $85 billion deal during the campaign. Though, in recent days he's suggested he is still deciding his stance, telling Axios in an interview that "I haven't seen any of the facts." That remark came just one day after he met with Pai at Trump Tower and less than a week after AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson paid Trump a visit.
A report from Multichannel News last week also said the new president's team is eyeing a massive overhaul of the FCC. The changes could shift many of their efforts on consumer protection handed off to the Federal Trade Commission.
The ATT-Time Warner merger has even free-market proponents worried that it will mean less competition in the cable and wireless industries. But many analysts point to increased efficiency in the delivery of consumer services as a reason to allow the deal to go through. Whether that increased efficiency leads to lower costs for users is unknown, however, and the Trump Justice Department will look carefully at the anti-competitive aspects of the merger before giving the go-ahead.
Pai has spent most of the last decade in the FCC, serving for several years in the office of general counsel, where a lot of proposed regulations originate. Under the Democrats, the general counsel issued opinions that enabled net neutrality to go forward. That process will now be reversed, although it is likely that some of the regulations dealing with consumer protections will remain.
Trump could not have done better to turn the FCC around than naming Pai as chairman.