FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Is Resigning In January, Will Net Neutrality Regulations Return?

Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai, Chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) who made numerous headlines over the past few years for his crusade against net neutrality regulations, announced he is departing the agency in January when President-Elect Joe Biden enters the administration. His departure leaves open the possibility that net neutrality rules imposed under the Obama administration could potentially return, though nothing is certain.

Before getting into government work, Pai was a lawyer for Verizon, from 2001 to 2003. President Obama appointed him as Commissioner in 2012, then in 2017 President Trump designated him Chairman as the agency. He promptly proposed repealing existing (at the time) net neutrality rules, and was eventually successful, pushing through what the FCC called the Restoring Internet Freedom Order.

He mostly avoided the topic in his resignation letter, and only alluded to his efforts to repeal consumer protections saying "this FCC has not shied away from making tough choices. As a result, our nation’s communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before."

Pai also made the dubious claim that this has been "the most transparent FCC in history." Indeed, he has taken steps to make the FCC more transparent, such as publishing monthly FCC orders and making public drafts of proposals. But under this employ, the FCC also had to be sued to share server logs as part of an investigation into "the fraudulent use of Americans' identities" to flood the comments section of a draft proposal to remove net neutrality rules.

"For six months my office has been investigating who perpetrated a massive scheme to corrupt the FCC’s notice and comment process through the misuse of enormous numbers of real New Yorkers’ and other Americans’ identities. Such conduct likely violates state law—yet the FCC has refused multiple requests for crucial evidence in its sole possession that is vital to permit that law enforcement investigation to proceed," former New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote in 2017.

More recently (last year), Microsoft ripped the FCC for its "inaccurate" broadband statistics, essentially insinuating that the agency's report on the subject was misleading. So whether the FCC has been the most transparent ever under Pai's leadership depends entirely on who you ask.

"It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years... To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a particular privilege. As I often say: only in America," Pai wrote.

So, what comes next? President-Elect Biden will appoint a new Chairman who has yet to be officially named. Various reports suggest it could be Mignon Clyburn, a former commissioner and the first woman to serve as Chairman of the FCC, when she was appointed the position on an interim basis before Tom Wheeler accepted the role in 2013.

Whether Clyburn or someone else, it would not be surprising to see the Biden administration push to reinstate net neutrality regulations, which means this could be once again become a hot topic of debate.