FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to step down on January 20

Ajit Pai

Brad Quick | CNBC

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai will step down on January 20, the inauguration day of President-elect Joe Biden, he said on Monday.

The announcement means the FCC could reach a Democratic majority sooner than it otherwise could. Pai’s term was due to expire in June 2021, although Biden may choose a Democrat to chair the commission once in office. Commissioners must be confirmed by the Senate.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, including as chairman of the FCC for the past four years,” Pai said in a statement. “I am grateful to President Trump for giving me the opportunity to lead the agency in 2017, to President Obama for making me commissioner in 2012, and to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate for me. have confirmed twice. Being the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a special privilege. As I often say: only in America. “

Pai’s decision to step down could have significant implications for Net neutrality, an issue that has helped define his tenure as president. In 2017, Pai voted with his fellow Republican commissioners to remove rules that prohibited ISPs from blocking or slowing traffic to particular sites and offering faster “lanes” at higher prices. However, many large internet providers have yet to take advantage of this rule change.

Pai had recently said the FCC may move forward with drafting rules around President Donald Trump’s executive order targeting social media companies. He said the commission’s attorney general determined he had the legal authority to interpret section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that prevents technology platforms from being held to responsible for their users’ posts (and to remove those posts or reduce their reach). Pai’s departure makes it much less likely that meaningful action on the executive order will take place anytime soon, given that both Democratic commissioners have opposed Pai’s decision.

The five-person commission cannot have more than three party commissioners at any one time under the law. The president can appoint a commission chair from outside the agency or select one of the existing commissioners, such as Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks.

Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr still has several years in office, but the other two seats are now on hold. Trump revoked his nomination for Republican Mike O’Rielly for another term in August after expressing reservations about the FCC’s authority around the Section 230 executive order. Trump’s new nominee Nathan Simington testified before the Senate earlier this month, but with the session drawing to a close, his nomination could take some time to be passed.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Told the hearing he would block Simington’s appointment unless he agrees to recuse himself from the Section 230 regulations. Simington, a department official of Commerce, admitted that he had played a “minor role” in drafting the petition asking the FCC to reinterpret the statute under Trump’s orders.

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