Ajit Pai Confirms FCC Chairmanship

WASHINGTON—Ajit Pai has confirmed that he has been named chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

“I am deeply grateful to the President of the United States for designating me the 34th Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. I look forward to working with the new Administration, my colleagues at the commission, members of Congress, and the American public to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans,” Pai said Monday afternoon in an email, confirming the earlier reports of his appointment.

Reports first emerged of Pai’s appointment on Friday, Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, when the philosophical Kansan retweeted Charles C.W. Cooke, editor of the National Review Online following Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) speech: “‘Every four years since 1789.’ No exceptions, whatever the circumstances. Remarkable.”

Pai, senior Republican on the commission, was confirmed May 7, 2012. He has since opposed network neutrality and supported broadcasting in a number of instances. He advocated the approval of ATSC 3.0 at a Senate oversight hearing last September. He notably opposed the June 2015 vacant channel proposal that would leave one UHF channel open for unlicensed devices after the auction.

“I cannot support the commission’s proposal to prioritize the spectrum needs of unlicensed white space devices over those of translators and LPTV stations,” he said in his dissent.

Pai also dissented on the structure of the incentive auction laid out in an August, 2015 Public Notice. He objected to repacking TV stations in the wireless band and the duplex gap, reserving spectrum for bidders with minimal low-band holdings and leaving two channels vacant for unlicensed devices.

“You can’t say that you’re for LPTV stations and TV translators but then deliberately deny them spectrum within the broadcast television band,” he said.

Pai also split the sheet with the Democratic-led commission last June on continued media ownership restrictions:

“Last month, the FCC had no problem approving not one, but two multibillion dollar cable mergers. Last year, it signed off on AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV. Yet, it now gets the vapors at the prospect of a newspaper in Scranton, Pa., owning a single radio station. Whatever the motivation for the chairman’s proposal, it has nothing to do with the evidence in the record, principled decision-making, or the law. Indeed, given current trends, it is likely that the Commission’s newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership restrictions will outlive the print newspaper industry itself.” 

Chairman Pai graduated from Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School, served as a law clerk for a federal judge in Louisiana, then worked his way up the ranks of Washington telecommunications policymakers through the Department of Justice (twice), the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee (also twice; once as deputy chief counsel for Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has been tapped for Attorney General), to the FCC, then a partner in D.C. law firm Jenner & Block LLP, then back to the commission in 2012.