Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Pai's Departure, Clears Path For Biden's FCC

FCC's Ajit Pai
President-elect Joe Biden gained a clearer path to redirecting U.S. telecommunications policy Monday, after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to step down on Jan. 20, 2021.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Republican chairman’s departure will allow Democrats to start work soon after Inauguration Day on their expected priorities, including restoring Obama-era net-neutrality rules regulating how internet service providers treat traffic on their networks.

Biden also has said he wants to focus on universal broadband access.

“What I really think you would see in a Democratic administration is a focus on the urban populations that continue to remain without service,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, one of two Democrats currently serving on the commission, said in a recent interview before Mr. Pai’s announcement. “Over 18 million households lack broadband simply because it’s too expensive.”

Under Mr. Pai, the FCC recently launched a $16 billion auction process to subsidize the construction of rural broadband networks.

Starks is considered a candidate to replace Mr. Pai, along with the other current Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who didn’t respond to a request for comment. A representative of Mr. Starks declined to comment Monday.

Another person considered to be a possible successor is Mignon Clyburn, a telecom, tech and media-industry consultant who served as FCC commissioner and acting chairwoman during the Obama administration.

Pai has served as a member of the five-person commission since 2012 and led the agency since 2017. The first Asian-American to chair the FCC, he sought to cut regulations, fight illegal robocalls, make more radio frequencies available for next-generation wireless networks, and direct billions of dollars to build broadband in rural areas.

Gordon Smith
Pai took criticism online for leading a push to repeal net-neutrality rules established during the Obama era. He also was known for cracking jokes during commission meetings, to which he usually carried an oversize Reese’s-branded coffee mug.

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith saluted Pai, calling him “a champion of free and local broadcasting” since he joined the FCC.

Smith said, “His fair, thoughtful approach to regulation led to many common-sense reforms that were long overdue. Most notably, Chairman Pai modernized the Commission’s media ownership rules, authorized and promoted the transition to the Next Gen TV transmission standard, helped revitalize the AM radio band and cleared out some significant regulatory underbrush that was no longer in the public interest.”

Apart from his policy moves, Smith added that Pai “also demonstrated great leadership, creativity, a sense of humor and always had an open door. America’s broadcasters thank Chairman Pai for his public service to the benefit of the millions of viewers and listeners who tune in to their local radio and TV stations every day.”

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