Pai's Planned Exit Draws Crowd

The FCC seal
(Image credit: FCC)

Communications stakeholders were weighing in Monday on the official announcement that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is exiting the commission with the change to a new administration Jan. 20.

Related: Pai Makes FCC Exit Official

"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."

“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.”

“Chairman Pai has been a champion of free and local broadcasting since he joined the FCC," said National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith. "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 many policy advances, Chairman Pai also demonstrated great leadership, creativity, a sense of humor and always had an open door," Smith said. "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.”

“ACA Connects salutes FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on his tenure at the agency, including his time as a Commissioner before rising to Chairman in 2017, " said ACA Connects President Matt Polka. "We commend him on his efforts to close the digital divide, eliminate outdated regulations, and account for the disparate impact that government rules and regulations have on small businesses.

“With respect to broadband, his FCC fostered a regulatory environment that facilitated enormous investment, such that during the COVID-19 emergency our broadband networks were fully capable of supporting Americans working from home," said Polka. "In addition, Chairman Pai’s FCC reformed and updated the universal service programs, shrinking the digital divide. On video, his FCC modernized numerous media rules and implemented the retransmission consent/good faith provisions for buying groups of smaller MVPDs, which allowed these providers to better compete. Finally, his FCC’s C-Band Order allowed earth station operators the option to make C-band transition decisions that meet their needs."

“We commend Chairman Pai for his exceptional stewardship of the Federal Communications Commission," said Michael Powell, president of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association and a former Republican FCC chairman himself. "He set a clear vision for his tenure and the industry and pursued it with purpose, transparency, scholarly rigor and courage. During his time as chairman he frequently faced overheated criticism and personal attacks that have become sadly common in the sphere of policymaking. Nonetheless he maintained his grace, sense of humor and unwavering commitment to the public interest. His strong leadership at the FCC during a time of quickly changing communications technologies ensured that America remained a global internet, communications and entertainment leader. During his tenure, Chairman Pai pushed for policies that spurred investment and innovation in our nation’s communications networks while also expanding the benefits of broadband to all Americans. We wish him well as he prepares to start a new chapter in his career.”

"I think he has been a articulate, innovate and vigorous FCC leader," said yet another former Republican FCC Chairman Dick Wiley. "During his chairmanship the FCC has confronted and resolved innumerable issues of importance in the communications field. I wish him well."

Even Greer, deputy director of net neutrality activist group Fight for the Future, could not have seen the chairmanship more differently.

“Ajit Pai will go down in history as one of the most corrupt government officials of the century," said Greer. "His callous attack on net neutrality and blatant coddling of Big Telecom monopolies sparked the largest cross-partisan online backlash in the modern era. As he fades into the background, his smug demeanor and giant Reese’s mug will become cautionary memes –– reminding Internet users what happens when we don’t hold our government accountable," she said.

Wireless internet service providers were holding him accountable for freeing up much-needed spectrum.

"Chairman Pai has been a huge champion of the fixed wireless industry, with his FCC’s tireless efforts to identify, free-up and share spectrum that would otherwise have gone fallow," said a spokesperson for WISPA, the wireless internet service providers association. "He helped keep regulation low, and worked to remove other related burdens, which was especially helpful for our small WISP members.  And his dedication to reducing the digital divide, in particular in rural America, is without parallel.  All of this helped American broadband consumers win and live better lives as a result."

“I’ve been involved in communications law and policy for four decades now, and I have no hesitation in saying that Ajit Pai has been one of the most consequential FCC Chairman that I have observed," said Free State Foundation President Randolph May, himself a former top FCC staffer. "As Chairman Pai said in the announcement of his impending departure, he has “not shied away from making tough choices.” Pai fought — and, indeed, he had to fight — to reduce regulation where it was no longer needed in light of marketplace and technological developments, and he led the way in taking important actions to help get broadband deployed in unserved areas. Perhaps most consequential of all was Pai’s leadership, supported by his colleagues Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, in reversing the Obama FCC’s imposition of public utility-like regulation on Internet providers. The idea that broadband providers should be regulated under the same common carrier regime as Ma Bell and legacy voice telephone companies doesn’t make sense.

"There were occasions, unfortunately, when Chairman Pai and his family were subject to nasty personal attacks because of the positions he took, for example, in leading the Commission to adopt the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. This should never have happened and shouldn’t happen again. But Chairman Pai didn’t back down. Rather he responded to those unjustifiable attacks with grace and aplomb. That’s a worthy legacy too." 

"Unfortunately, Chairman Pai has succeeded in many of his efforts to promote the interests of large telecommunications, broadcasting and cable companies at the expense of smaller competitors and, especially, the public," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior counselor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. "We have less competition and higher prices as a result of these policies, some of which may still be overturned in the courts."

But Schwartzman had some encouraging words as well.

One area where public interest community and Chairman Pai have been in agreement is the opening up of new bands of spectrum for wireless use. He gets high marks for facing down other parts of the government to get this done."

Pai ran into pushback from the Department of Transportation, the Defense Department and other agencies for his efforts to free up government spectrum for commercial use, either by reclamation and auction or by dynamic sharing.

"Ideology aside," said Shwartzman, who squared off in court against the FCC efforts to deregulate broadcast media, "Chairman Pai has also been an excellent administrator of the agency. His good natured personality has served him well in that regard."

 “While I am saddened to hear about his forthcoming departure, I applaud and thank Chairman Pai for his consistent, strong, and focused leadership and advocacy on 5G," said Mike Rogers, chairman of 5G action Now and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "The United States is in a much stronger position today and handing off considerable progress on the issue to the incoming Commission due in no small part to Chairman Pai’s efforts. Ensuring American leadership on 5G requires consistency and I hope that his efforts are continued under the next FCC chair, whomever that may be. I wish Chairman Pai the best of luck on his next endeavors.” 

"We disagree on so many issues of substance,  but you can't deny that Chairman Pai has been a real change agent at the FCC," said Mike Copps, former FCC chairman and commissioner and currently special adviser to Common Cause. "From his own perspective and what he and his administration wanted to accomplish, I suppose he deems himself a success. But from the standpoint of advancing telecom and media infrastructure and the public interest, I don't think these are years that will go down as golden in FCC history. 

"From the standpoint of eliminating so many of the media ownership rules and net neutrality, those have been head-in-the-sand decisions that set the public interest back significantly. The challenge now is to try to put the public interest at the forefront of the FCC's work and I hope the new FCC after Jan. 20 will proceed expeditiously to do just that."

“Leaders are defined by moments of great crisis, and Chairman Pai has earned his place in history for his tremendous role in uniting our industry to help keep Americans connected when it mattered most," said INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering. "Rising to meet the moment, Chairman Pai’s COVID response helped save lives, save businesses and save the sanity for millions of families stuck at home and dependent on internet connections for work and school.

“Chairman Pai’s time as chairman helped expand connectivity options for new innovators and will be remembered for his commitment to helping bridge the digital divide for rural Americans. While we didn’t always agree on the role of competition, Chairman Pai and his team conducted honest and transparent policy debates, and vigorously defended their positions with creativity, care and substance.

“Throughout his tenure, and never more so than during these challenging days of the pandemic, Chairman Pai has prioritized bridging the digital divide and connecting all Americans everywhere to 21st century communications networks," said Jonathan Spalter, USTelecom president. "Our nation’s broadband providers who invest in innovation, dig the trenches, pull the fiber, and climb the poles share that commitment, and on behalf of USTelecom, we offer our appreciation to Chairman Pai for his service to our nation, the Commission and to the cause of connectivity for all.”

“This has been a historic Chairmanship: the most spectrum freed up for commercial wireless use, long overdue reforms of 30-year-old infrastructure deployment rules, and a commitment to serving consumer needs and the broader public interest by leveraging private sector competition and innovation," said Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA. "Thanks to Chairman Pai’s leadership, we are poised to maintain our position as the world’s innovation hub and lead the emerging 5G economy.”

“NATE salutes FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for his years of dedicated public service and visionary leadership at the agency," said Todd Schlekeway, chairman of NATE, The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association. "During his tenure, Chairman Pai played a leading role shaping policies that led to a successful broadcast repack transition, a streamlined regulatory environment surrounding the deployment of 5G technologies, unleashing access to spectrum bands critical to next generation networks and helping close the digital divide by expanding broadband connectivity to rural, unserved and underserved areas of the country. These actions will directly benefit the entire country as well as NATE member companies working on the front lines of deployment for years to come.”

“Additionally, NATE is forever grateful to Chairman Pai for utilizing his platform at the FCC to help shine a spotlight on the prominent role that the tower technician workforce plays to enable a connected society." 

While there has at times been a frosty relationship between Republicans and noncommercial media, America's Public Television Stations (APTS) had nothing but good things to say about the outgoing chairman. 

“America’s Public Television Stations wish to express our gratitude to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for working so constructively and successfully with us on a range of issues important to public television," said APTS President Patrick Butler.

“Over the course of the past four years, Chairman Pai has always been willing to listen to our concerns and encourage our ambitions, and he has gone well beyond the call of duty to speak at our Public Media Summit, visit with our board of trustees, and consistently and publicly reinforce his support for our work in the nation’s service," said Butler.

“Through spectrum auctions, media modernization reforms, children’s educational programming initiatives, championing the NextGen broadcast standard and so much more, Chairman Pai has been a consequential leader in the communications industry, and he has done so with great common sense and uncommon personal grace,"he said. 

Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Republican Leader Bob Latta (R-OH) released the following statement after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced his intent to depart the FCC on January 20, 2021 after eight years of service.

“Chairman Pai’s eight years of service at the FCC have undoubtedly left a lasting mark on the Commission," said Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Communications Subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio) in a joint statement. "From preserving a free and open internet, reducing waste, fraud, and abuse in the Universal Service Fund to allow carriers to deploy broadband services and 5G technology, to creating a telehealth care grant program during COVID-19, and stopping illegal robocalls, the FCC’s policies during Chairman Pai’s leadership have tremendously improved American consumers’ lives and increased competition and connectivity across U.S. communities. While he will surely be missed at the FCC, we believe every American owes him a debt of gratitude," they said. 

“Chairman Pai is an advocate for innovation, and we thank him for his strong leadership at the helm of the FCC," said Consuimer Technology Association President Gary Shapiro. "Through his commitment to closing the digital divide—from advancing 5G deployment to providing access to White Spaces—Americans have greater access to broadband, especially in rural and underserved communities.” 

“Chairman Pai participated in numerous CTA events—even speaking at CES®, the world’s most influential technology event, where he discussed the importance of making spectrum more available, the future of the Internet of Things and other regulatory and policy issues.  

“We applaud Pai’s efforts during his tenure to increase connectivity and close the digital divide, and we look forward to working with his successor to continue to adopt policies to spur U.S.-led innovation.” 

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.