FCC watchers have been saying for a while that Ajit Pai would be tapped as interim FCC chair after Tom Wheeler stepped down (he did so today), but a new report claims Pai will become the new chairman full-stop. Pai reportedly met with then president-elect Donald Trump last weekend, which adds credibility to the story.
The appointment could be disastrous for net neutrality. Obama appointment Wheeler (and a Democratically-controlled commission) in 2015 classified broadband a Title II service that would be regulated as a public service. The new rules forbade broadband providers to sell internet “fast lanes” of any kind to large internet companies at the expense of small ones and consumers. Pai has been outspoken in his opposition to the ruling. If Pai is chairman, experts have told me, he could either enact a new ruling reversing Wheeler’s, or could simply decline to defend Wheeler’s ruling against the legal challenges of big broadband providers like AT&T and Verizon. In fact, a Pai appointment could be a catalyst for new legal attacks.
Opponents of Wheeler’s ruling have argued that imposing such regulatory control removes the impetus to further invest in the speed and capacity of the networks. This view aligns with the Trump administration’s stated goal of pulling back the reach of the government’s regulatory arm.