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Pai Pledges to Listen to All Stakeholders; Praises Private Sector Technocopia

FCC nominee Ajit Pai says he will consult with all stakeholders and collaborate with Congress if confirmed to replace Republican Meredith Attwell Baker on the commission.

That is according to his prepared testimony for Wednesday's Senate Commerce Committee confirmation hearing. He also used his smartphone as an example of the kind of communications innovation the government can spur when it "prioritizes competition and innovation" and allowed the private sector to deliver the technological goods.

Pai talks about being the son of immigrants from India who moved to Parsons, Kan., to serve as doctors in a country hospital. There, he says, he remembers bulky phones wired to the wall, TV's access to three channels, no cable, but eventually a 10-foot satellite Dish that could get those TV channels "if we typed the channel coordinates into a set-top box and waited a minute or two for the satellite to reposition itself."

Borrowing from Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, Pai says of the communications landscape: "we are not in the Kansas of my childhood anymore."

He talks of an explosion of competition, cable vs. phone vs. satellite vs. wireless, and an explosion of content and new delivery systems. He said the best example of the technology that has come from private sector investment and innovation was his phone, on which he has watched TV shows, read articles and entire books, listened to radio stations, e-mailed friends, taken pictures, created videos, bought airline tickets, made restaurant reservations, and even used it to install a cabinet with an app that uses the phone as a level.

"These technologies have made our lives better, richer, and in some cases, even longer," he said, and "for this, the private sector deserves the lion's share of the credit."

Pai promises to study the record and "stay within the boundaries of the Commission's authority, as set forth by Congress," sounding a lot like current Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, who has often counseled the commission to stick to enforcing the law rather than trying to make it.

He promised to keep an open mind and door. "My decision-making process also would reflect a respect for those outside the agency with an important interest in the FCC's work. I would seek to build a collaborative relationship with Congress, including the members and staff of this Committee.... Similarly, I would consult as appropriate with the private sector, executive branch agencies, consumer groups, state and local governments, and others impacted by the Commission's agenda. A good Commissioner must be a good listener, and if confirmed, I will do my best to make sure that I hear what all stakeholders have to say."

Pai, since last spring, has been a partner at Jenner & Block LLP. Before that he was in the Office of the General Counsel at the Federal Communications Commission, where he was Deputy General Counsel, Associate General Counsel, and Special Advisor to the General Counsel.  He is also former chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution.

Pai joined law firm Jenner & Block in April 2011 from the FCC where, since 2007, he had been Deputy General Counsel, Associate General Counsel, and Special Advisor to the General Counsel.

Before joining the FCC in 2007 under then Chairman Kevin Martin, Pai's resume included deputy chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts (2003-2004) and senior counsel in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy. Between 2005 and 2007, Pai was chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights, including lead counsel on Supreme Court nominations. He was associate general counsel at Verizon from 2001 to 2003.

Pai was a candidate for the Republican seat in 2009, which ultimately went to Baker. Her exit last summer for Comcast -- she actually didn't join the company until last month -- opened the door for Pai once again.