U.S. telecom companies ecstatic about Donald Trump’s pick for new FCC chairman.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai:
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If open internet advocates are to be believed, the sky is falling. Newly installed U.S. President Donald Trump has, somewhat predictably, named Ajit Pai the new head of the Federal Communications Commission.
A former Verizon lawyer and an FCC commissioner since 2012, Pai has been a vocal opponent of many of the agency’s rulings over the past five years, made under Democrat chairman Tom Wheeler.
He has opposed new privacy rules that require broadband providers to ask customers for permission to share their information and has generally been in favour of large industry mergers, including the current proposed union between AT&T and Time Warner.
More worrying is Pai’s belief, which he reiterated at a conference in Toronto last summer, that there is no market failure in the United States when it comes to telecom services. Many Americans – such as those who are paying thousands of dollars to get cable companies to wire their homes for internet – would disagree.
Pai has reserved his most vocal opposition for the FCC’s move in 2015 to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service rather than an information service. Doing so gave the regulator the authority to prevent internet service providers from cutting special “paid prioritization” deals with content companies, thus preserving net neutrality.
The alternative, Wheeler believed, would result in the emergence of a tiered internet where bigger content providers could pay for faster connections to users, which would go against the everybody-on-equal-footing principle that the internet has always operated on.
With so many internet content companies based in the U.S., this would go beyond just national considerations and have global ramifications. It’s why FCC decisions are so important to Canada and other countries.
After Trump’s election, Pai made no bones about what he would do to the reclassification rules if he were named FCC chairman. “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation,” he said in December.
With such clear statements, it’s no wonder consumer advocate groups and many in the media are feeling like Trump has just put a wolf in charge of the henhouse. The fact that telecom companies including Comcast, AT&T and Verizon are ecstatic about the appointment is even more cause for consumers to worry.
At least one writer, however, feels such characterizations are unfair. Technology author Larry Downes, writing on Forbes, rejects the notion that the sky is falling and says Pai isn’t opposed to net neutrality in principle. He’s just opposed to the left’s supposed ongoing effort to re-regulate the telecom industry.
It is in fact possible that Pai will emerge as a friend to consumers. His predecessor Wheeler, a former lobbyist for cable and wireless companies, did after all come into the job with a similar pro-industry pedigree. The industry also similarly cheered his appointment.
It didn’t take long for Wheeler to turn on his old colleagues and become one of the most pro-consumer FCC chairmen in history, although it is likely he got walking papers to that effect from Barack Obama himself.
Will Pai get similar instructions from Trump? Like everything about the new administration, it’s impossible to predict.