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In a move signaling the beginning of much telecommunication deregulation, Donald Trump is picking Ajit Pai as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, say sources.
Pai, a former Verizon lawyer who has served as FCC commissioner since 2012, will succeed Tom Wheeler, whose stewardship of the FCC was marked by bold rulemaking, most famously with regard to net neutrality. In his time at the FCC, Pai has been extremely vocal about his unhappiness with the agency’s heavy hand. He has signaled an intent to roll back the FCC’s “open internet” rules, although such moves could bring protests and litigation.
A Republican-dominated FCC is also expected to be much less active by backing away from Wheeler’s other controversial proposals, such as one aimed at ending expensive cable set-top boxes or another aimed at ensuring privacy on broadband networks. Much of this will be welcomed by the broadcast industry, who also may be pleased by Pai’s past comments criticizing the way the FCC has imposed onerous conditions on media companies who wish to merge. For example, when AT&T sought approval for its purchase of DirecTV, Pai called it “nothing more than policymaking through the merger review process.”
On the other hand, it’s less clear how Pai will police indecency on the airwaves. That’s traditionally been a Republican priority. After the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the agency failed to provide broadcasters with sufficient notice of its policies on naughty words and nudity on television, but didn’t destroy the FCC’s power to come up with new indecency rules, Pai expressed the “need for the Commission to make its policy clear,” also talking about how the FCC should expeditiously process a huge backlog in indecency complaints.
Nevertheless, Pai is no fan of political correctness and has highlighted an agenda that’s more focused on encouraging broadband deployment in rural and poor areas of the country by removing regulatory barriers. He also will be largely focused on spectrum auctions in the coming months.
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