FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to Step Down in January

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks during a news conference - Getty - H 2019
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced on Monday that he'll step down from his post on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, even though his current term isn't set to end until July.

Pai was tapped to lead the FCC in January 2017 and was first appointed as a commissioner by President Barack Obama in 2012. President-elect Joe Biden has announced some key leaders in his administration, but he hasn't yet indicated who he has in mind for the role.

Under Pai, the agency was reevaluating the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects certain online platforms from liability for content created by third parties. Critics of Section 230, including President Donald Trump, have argued this gives "big tech" (Facebook, Google, etc.) too much power and allows them to "censor" what's posted on their sites without recourse. It's unclear how that will play out now that Pai will be leaving his post six months early.

In a Monday press release announcing his upcoming departure, Pai said, in part, "I am proud of how productive this Commission has been, from commencing five spectrum auctions and two rural broadband reverse auctions in four years, to opening 1,245 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for unlicensed use, to adopting more than 25 orders through our Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, to aggressively protecting our communications networks from national security threats at home and abroad, to designating 988 as the three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and much, much more. I’m also proud of the reforms we have instituted to make the agency more accountable to the American people. In particular, for the first time ever, we’ve made public drafts of the proposals and orders slated for a vote three weeks before the agency’s monthly meetings, making this the most transparent FCC in history." (Read his full statement here.)