Pai Makes FCC Exit Official

FCC chairman Ajit Pai
(Image credit: FCC)

No big surprise, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has made it official that he will exit the commission when the new Administration takes over Jan. 20.

Pai could have theoretically remained on the FCC as a commissioner until his term expired, but that would have been highly unusual. 

Trying to close the digital divide, advancing 5G and deregulating broadcast ownership and broadband internet access services were key priorities in Pai's tenure. He was harshly, and famously, criticized by net neutrality activists for eliminating net neutrality rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, which will likely be restored under a Biden Administration, and his broadcast ownership rule dereg was thrown out by the court, though the Supreme Court is hearing the FCC's and broadcasters' appeal of that decision.

He also presided over a flurry of activity on freeing up spectrum for 5G, both auctions and repurposing/sharing, as well as efforts to speed mobile wireless tower citing.

The chairman released the following statement in which he thanked President Trump and pointed out he was the first Asian-American--he is of Indian descent--to chair the commission.

Related: Pai Says His FCC Has Been Tops at Freeing Up Legislation

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years.  I am grateful to President Trump for giving me the opportunity to lead the agency in 2017, to President Obama for appointing me as a Commissioner in 2012, and to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the Senate for twice confirming me. To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a particular privilege.  As I often say: only in America.

“I also deeply appreciate the chance to have worked alongside the FCC’s talented staff.  They are the agency’s best assets, and they have performed heroically, especially during the pandemic.  It’s also been an honor to work with my fellow Commissioners to execute a strong and broad agenda.  Together, we’ve delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety. And this FCC has not shied away from making tough choices.  As a result, our nation’s communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before. 

“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.

“Last but not least, I want to thank my family for all they have done to enable me to serve at the agency.  The public service of one generally results from the private sacrifice of many, and I’m grateful for their love and support.”

Pai's family was the target of some of the animus over his net neutrality rule deregulation.

“Congratulations to my friend and colleague, Ajit Pai, for his distinguished run as FCC Chairman," said Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who is also exiting the FCC by January. "His Commission ushered in many policy advancements and made strides updating communications regulations, from restoring the Commission’s successful light-touch regulatory framework for Internet service providers to modernizing media rules, opening up more spectrum bands for commercial use, and expanding broadband access to unserved Americans. I wish him all the best in the next stage of his career and thank him for his great service to our nation.”

"While we did not always agree on policy matters, I always valued our shared commitment to public service," said Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a leading candidate to succeed Pai in the chairmanship. "Serving the American people is a tremendous honor and I wish him the best in the future."

“I want to congratulate and thank my friend Ajit for his courageous and principled service to the country," said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in a statement. "He will leave behind an unapparelled record of accomplishments—one that would not even fit in his oversized coffee mug. Ajit took the helm of the FCC in 2017 at a time when U.S. leadership in 5G was in doubt, and his regulatory reforms enabled the private sector to build new, high-speed Internet connections at an unprecedented pace. With Internet speeds more than doubling under his leadership, America is now home to the strongest 5G platform in the world."

“Chairman Pai and I may disagree on many policy issues," said Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, "but we are in full agreement about two things: the outstanding quality of the FCC’s staff and the tremendous abilities of [Super Bowl MVP Kansas City Chiefs quarterback] Patrick Mahomes. I wish Ajit the best of luck on the road ahead.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.