New Chairman Ajit Pai has gotten off to a good start in his place atop the FCC.
Rather than rattle big sticks at net neutrality rules or other specific hot-button topics, he made his initial thrust both calling for, and acting on, ways to close the digital divide.
Admittedly, his approach will certainly be different from his predecessors. Tom Wheeler used the perceived threat of internet service providers’ ability to impede the uptake of broadband (by blocking and degrading, or anti-competitively favoring content) to justify regulating in the name of deployment and access.
Pai signaled that he would be focusing on clearing away the red tape and regulatory impediments.
He started out by talking to groups on both sides of the issue, then being flexible with subsidies, allowing New York State the freedom to apply its own standards for subsidizing broadband build-outs.
Pai sent the signal that he would take aim at regulations he thought were not needed, or which impeded competition and innovation, but he did not double down on his “weed whacker” comments and, fortunately, the FCC is not subject to President Trump’s edict about getting rid of two regulations for every one added, which has all the finesse of his travel ban on immigrants.
Pai’s emphasis on closing the digital divide did not keep dereg opponents from pillorying him, but their cries of the death of net neutrality and the horrors of a Pai chairmanship rang hollow, though they were understandable as ways to rally their base to contribute to the Open Internet Order fight ahead.
Whatever one thinks of his politics, Pai is a smart and capable public servant who will further his view of the public’s interest as best served by regulatory humility and focusing on the marketplace as it is, not as it was. Given the turbulence of the times and the cult of personality disorder that has taken hold in the top echelons, his self-effacing demeanor and good humor are also welcome respites in a sea of rancor.
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