On Friday, January 20, 2017, shortly after the conclusion of the presidential inauguration, news broke that Ajit Pai, a Republican Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) and its acting Chairman, will be named the permanent Chairman of the FCC. Commissioner Pai will assume the permanent chairmanship from former Chairman Tom Wheeler, who resigned effective January 20, 2017. Because Commissioner Pai is a sitting member of the FCC, his appointment as permanent chair does not require Senate confirmation.
Commissioner Pai will lead the FCC with a 2-1 Republican majority, pending the appointment of two additional members to the five-member Commission. The FCC has regulatory authority, among other respects, over the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), Internet services and providers, and telecom policymaking generally. Since his appointment to the FCC in May 2012, Commissioner Pai has been an outspoken critic of net neutrality rules championed by former Chairman Wheeler and has called for a less active FCC. He was also critical of the FCC’s July 2015 TCPA Order (previously discussed here). As a result, Commissioner Pai’s appointment may herald a shift in the FCC’s policies concerning net neutrality, the TCPA, and many other matters before the Commission.