INDIA ABROAD Feburary 17, 2017 13 U.S. AFFAIRS
By Cecilia Kang
n his first days as President
Trump’s pick to lead the
Commission, Ajit Pai has
aggressively moved to roll
back consumer protection
regulations created during the
Mr. Pai took a first swipe at
net neutrality rules designed to
ensure equal access to content
on the internet. He stopped nine
companies from providing discounted high-speed internet
service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to
keep prison phone rates down,
and he scrapped a proposal to
break open the cable box market.
In total, as the chairman of the
F.C.C., Mr. Pai released about a
dozen actions in the last week,
many buried in the agency’s
website and not publicly
announced, stunning consumer
advocacy groups and telecom
analysts. They said Mr. Pai’s
message was clear: The F.C.C., an
independent agency, will mirror
the Trump administration’s rapid
unwinding of government regulations that businesses fought
against during the Obama administration.
“With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his
true stripes,” said Matt Wood,
the policy director at the consumer group Free Press.
“The public wants an F.C.C.
that helps people,” he added.
“Instead, it got one that does
favors for the powerful corpora-
tions that its chairman used to
Mr. Pai, a former lawyer for
Verizon, was elevated by Mr.
Trump to the position of chairman after serving as a minority
Republican member for the past
three years. Known for being a
stickler on conservative interpretations of telecommunications
law and the limits of the F.C.C.’s
authority, Mr. Pai said he was
trying to wipe the slate clean.
He noted that his predecessor,
Tom Wheeler, had rammed
through a series of actions right
after the presidential election.
Many of those efforts, Mr. Pai
argued, went beyond the
agency’s legal authority.
“These last-minute actions,
which did not enjoy the support
of the majority of commissioners
at the time they were taken,
should not bind us going for-
ward,” Mr. Pai said in a state-
ment released Friday.
“Accordingly, they are being
The efforts portend great
changes at the federal agency at
the center of the convergence of
media, telecommunications and
the internet. The biggest target
will be net neutrality, a rule cre-
ated in 2015 that prevents inter-
net service providers from block-
ing or discriminating against
internet traffic. The rule, which
was created alongside a decision
to categorize broadband like a
utility, was the tech centerpiece
of the Obama administration.
On Friday, the F.C.C. took its
first steps to pull back those
rules, analysts said. Mr. Pai
closed an investigation into zero-rating practices of the wireless
providers T-Mobile, AT&T and
Verizon. Zero-rating is the offering of free streaming and other
downloads that do not count
against limits on the amount of
data a consumer can download.
If a provider like AT&T offers
free streaming of its Direc TV pro-
grams, does that violate net neu-
trality rules because it could put
competing video services at a
disadvantage? Under its previous
leadership, the F.C.C. said in a
report that it saw some evidence
that made it concerned. But Mr.
Pai said after closing the investi-
gations into wireless carriers that
zero-rating was popular among
consumers, particularly low-
“The speed of the ruling and
the chairman’s tone are very
encouraging for internet service
providers,” said Paul Gallant, an
analyst at Cowen. “I think it’s a
down payment on net neutrality,
with much more to follow.”
Mr. Pai said he had not decid-
ed how he would approach the
overhaul of broadband classifica-
tion and net neutrality rules, but
he faces legal hurdles. A federal
court upheld the rules last year,
and the commission could end
up in a lengthy legal battle if he
tries to scrap the rules.
Mr. Pai will have the help of
powerful members of Congress
who have promised to attack the
classification of broadband as a
utility-like service. And he is
popular among Republican leaders, including the Senate’s majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who
with other members viewed Mr.
Pai as a loyal voice of dissent
during the Obama years. Mr. Pai,
44, the child of immigrants from
India who settled in Kansas, is a
fresh face for the Republican
Congress could introduce legislation that limits the agency’s
ability to regulate broadband
providers and enforce net neutrality rules. Also under attack
are privacy rules for broadband
“The agency has strayed from
its core mission,” said Marsha
Blackburn, a Republican representative from Tennessee who
oversees a telecommunications
and tech subcommittee. She has
called for a hearing within two
weeks on the F.C.C. agenda
under the new administration.
Democrats in Congress said
they would fight legislation that
waters down net neutrality rules.
They said Mr. Pai, described as a
straight-A student of telecom
law, would be a tough adversary,
File photo of Julius Genachowski, right, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, speaking with
Ajit Pai, left, then an FCC commissioner, before an FCC oversight hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce,
Science and Transportation, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 12, 2013.
Ajit Pai, the lone Republican
on the Federal
Commission, in his office in
Washington, Aug. 16, 2013.
Trump’s F.C.C. Pick
Ajit Pai targets rules
Net Neutrality Rules
designed to ensure equal
access to content on the