Businesses and conservative groups rushed to laud President Trump’s move to elevate Ajit Pai to Chairman of the FCC. But former Chairman Tom Wheeler doesn’t seem thrilled with his replacement, and net neutrality proponents are sure to be disappointed—if not necessarily surprised.
Trump yesterday officially appointed Pai to the position, placing him in charge of a Commission on which Republicans currently hold a 2-1 advantage. Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, was sworn in as an FCC commissioner in 2012 and often opposed Wheeler’s agenda as Democrats held a 3-2 majority at the agency. As chairman overseeing a Republican-led commission, Pai would likely oversee the rollback of net neutrality rules that regulate wireless carriers and other broadband service providers.
“Ajit Pai is an exceptional choice to head the Federal Communications Commission,” CEO Jonathan Spalter of the trade association USTelecom said in a prepared statement. “He’s a thoughtful, forward-looking and energetic leader who has never forgotten his roots in rural Kansas, and the need to deliver high-speed broadband access to all parts of our country.”
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance was similarly deferential, noting the marked differences between Pai and Wheeler.
“Commissioner Pai has been an advocate for taxpayers by protecting them from subsidies that ex-Chairman Wheeler attempted to give away during spectrum auctions,” TPA President David Williams said in a press release. “Commissioner Pai is also a fierce advocate for a truly open internet, having fought against the net neutrality rules promulgated by ex-Chairman Wheeler.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with Marketplace, Wheeler discussed what appears to be a strained relationship between the two commissioners under his watch. While Wheeler said he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—predict Pai’s policy agenda, he said he had difficulty sitting down with Pai to discuss concerns at the FCC.
“Well, you know, it’s an interesting story that I had a regularly scheduled meeting every other week with every commissioner here at the FCC for an hour, in which we would sit down and talk about, ‘How do we work together? What are common concerns? What are the things they want to make sure that we’re focusing on?’ And for the last two years, Commissioner Pai has canceled every one of those meetings,” Wheeler told Marketplace. “So it’s hard to work together when you cancel meetings to talk together.”