Following in the tradition of past FCC Chairmen facing a political transition of power at the White House, Chairman Ajit Pai today announced that he intends to leave the FCC on Inauguration Day, creating an agency vacancy for presumptive President-elect Joe Biden to fill.
The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a vote on President Trump's nomination of Nathan Simington to the FCC seat currently held by Commissioner Mike O'Rielly, whose term ended in mid 2019 and who will have to leave at the end of the current congressional session or upon Mr. Simington's confirmation by the full Senate, whichever comes sooner.
Mr. Simington is senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and his confirmation would leave the Republicans with majority control of the Commission until Jan. 20. After Chairman Pai's departure, the Commission would be split politically 2-2 until the Senate confirms a new nominee. If the Senate does not confirm Mr. Simington's nomination before adjourning for the year, the Commission would be split 2-2 for the first few weeks of January, and then the Democrats would have a 2-1 majority after Chairman Pai's departure.
Senior Commission Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel is widely expected to be named as either Chairwoman or acting Chairwoman pending the confirmation of Mr. Biden's choice for a more permanent Chairperson. She is a former senior staffer on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which oversees the FCC. Designation of a sitting Commissioner as Chairperson or acting Chairperson does not require additional Senate approval.
In a statement announcing his plans, Chairman Pai said, "It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years. I am grateful to President Trump for giving me the opportunity to lead the agency in 2017, to President Obama for appointing me as a Commissioner in 2012, and to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the Senate for twice confirming me. To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a particular privilege. As I often say: only in America."
He added, "I also deeply appreciate the chance to have worked alongside the FCC's talented staff. They are the agency's best assets, and they have performed heroically, especially during the pandemic. It's also been an honor to work with my fellow Commissioners to execute a strong and broad agenda. Together, we've delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety. And this FCC has not shied away from making tough choices. As a result, our nation's communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before.
"I am proud of how productive this Commission has been, from commencing five spectrum auctions and two rural broadband reverse auctions in four years, to opening 1,245 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for unlicensed use, to adopting more than 25 orders through our Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, to aggressively protecting our communications networks from national security threats at home and abroad, to designating 988 as the three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and much, much more. I'm also proud of the reforms we have instituted to make the agency more accountable to the American people. In particular, for the first time ever, we've made public drafts of the proposals and orders slated for a vote three weeks before the agency's monthly meetings, making this the most transparent FCC in history," Mr. Pai continued.
"Last but not least, I want to thank my family for all they have done to enable me to serve at the agency. The public service of one generally results from the private sacrifice of many, and I'm grateful for their love and support," he concluded.
His fellow Commissioners praised his service in statements reacting to his announcement, with his Republican colleagues praising his accomplishments as well.
Commissioner O'Rielly said, "Congratulations to my friend and colleague, Ajit Pai, for his distinguished run as FCC Chairman. 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."
Commissioner Brendan Carr said, "I want to congratulate and thank my friend Ajit for his courageous and principled service to the country. He will leave behind an unapparelled record of accomplishments-one that would not even fit in his oversized coffee mug."
He added, "Ajit did far more than simply mark time during his run as Chairman. He took on the tough policy fights and made the right calls for the American people. He strengthened the country's national security by protecting our communications networks from bad actors that would do us harm. And he took critical steps in the days following COVID-19 to ensure that Americans could stay connected during the pandemic-whether for distance learning, working remotely, or telehealth.
"As a former staffer at the agency, Ajit has an immense appreciation for the institution, and as its leader he looked out for every person that worked at the Commission. He took the time to develop a personal connection with countless people at the agency. And he started a tradition of recognizing staffers for their career accomplishments during the FCC's monthly meetings," Commissioner Carr added.
Commissioner Rosenworcel said, "While we did not always agree on policy matters, I always valued our shared commitment to public service. Serving the American people is a tremendous honor and I wish him the best in the future."
Similarly, Mr. Pai's fellow Kansan, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, said, "Chairman Pai and I may disagree on many policy issues, but we are in full agreement about two things: the outstanding quality of the FCC's staff and the tremendous abilities of [Kansas City Chiefs quarterback] Patrick Mahomes. I wish Ajit the best of luck on the road ahead." In a joint statement, House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking minority member Greg Walden (R., Ore.) and communications and technology subcommittee ranking minority member Bob Latta (R., Ohio) said, "Chairman Pai's eight years of service at the FCC have undoubtedly left a lasting mark on the Commission. 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. We wish him and his family all the best and look forward to watching his continued success in his next adventure."
A variety of trade associations and other communications sector stakeholders also issued reaction statements, mostly commending Chairman Pai.
USTelecom President and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Spalter said, "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. 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."
CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker, said, "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. 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."
NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell, who is a former FCC Chairman, said, "We commend Chairman Pai for his exceptional stewardship of the Federal Communications Commission. 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."
NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said, "On behalf of NTCA's members, I want to thank Chairman Pai for all he has done to help close the digital divide in our country, to modernize FCC programs and to provide additional resources to advance and sustain broadband services in rural America. Chairman Pai grew up in a small town in Kansas and has clearly understood the importance of rural broadband for economic opportunity, education and health care. Throughout his tenure at the FCC, Chairman Pai took the time to meet with NTCA members and to visit rural communities to see for himself what more needs to be done-and then followed through with action. We are grateful for all of his hard work and leadership over the years, and we wish him the best in his next steps."
ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka commended Chairman Pai "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. 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."
Mr. Polka added, "We wish Chairman Pai nothing but the best in his bright future and thank him for his many years of public service."
Wireless Internet Service Providers Association President and CEO Claude Aiken said, "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. 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."
Mr. Aiken added, "We expect he'll be an important part of the policy discussion for years to come, and we wish him the best as he goes on to his next stage in his career."
Incompas CEO Chip Pickering said, "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. 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," Mr. Pickering continued. "We thank him for his service, and wish him and his family well in future endeavors."
The Fiber Broadband Association thanked Chairman Pai "for his many years of service on the Commission. He understood that all-fiber networks are fundamental infrastructure for 21st Century communications, and in many ways during his tenure, he advanced their deployment. FBA wishes him well on his next endeavors."
Morgan Reed, president of the app developer trade association ACT, said, "Throughout his tenure as FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai led the Commission with a singular mission to close the digital divide for millions of Americans. His leadership led to significant regulatory changes on rules regarding television white spaces and 5G deployment that will have a lasting impact on the small business app economy's continued growth."
Mr. Reed added, "We also commend Chairman Pai for his advocacy on telehealth and other digital health tools and what the FCC can do to support their use by providers and patients. On behalf of our members, many of whom met with Chairman Pai in the last four years, we thank him for his service to the FCC and wish him well on his next adventure."
National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Gordon Smith said, "Chairman Pai has been a champion of free and local broadcasting since he joined the FCC. 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. 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," Mr. Smith added.
Free State Foundation President Randolph May said, "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."
Mr. May added, "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."
He concluded, "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."
Not all the reactions were laudatory.
Free Press Vice President-policy and General Counsel Matt Wood said, "The entire premise of Pai's failed chairmanship is a lie: He claims that his radical deregulatory agenda spurred broadband improvements and closed the digital divide. None of these claims are remotely true."
He added, "While Pai hangs out the 'mission accomplished' banner, the stark reality is that nearly 80 million people in America still lack adequate broadband at home, with Black, Brown and Indigenous people disproportionately disconnected. That gaping digital divide remains, and Pai's done nothing to close it-even during the ongoing pandemic that's made essential internet connections that much more vital."
Mr. Wood said that "[n]inety-two percent of Pai-era fiber deployments came from projects announced during 2015-2016. And AT&T's DIRECTV merger-buildout commitment-which Pai opposed-accounted for two-thirds of all new household-fiber deployments during his tenure."
"The broadband-speed increases Pai foolishly touts, based on cherry-picked data, are also smaller than speed increases seen during the Obama administration-and, once again, have nothing to do with Pai's actions. Broadband speeds rise as technologies evolve-and these increases arose from deployment plans and paths put in place long before Pai took over the FCC," Mr. Wood added.
He said that "companies like AT&T and Comcast pocketed massive Trump tax cuts, slashed jobs and ramped down spending to put more money in shareholders' hands and less into building better networks. And broadband prices are once again on the rise, contrary to Pai's claims, thanks to terrible decisions like his approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger."
Mr. Wood added that "in recent months Pai has proven all too willing to consider the outgoing president's request for the FCC to regulate social-media companies and speech under Section 230 [of the Communications Decency Act]. After years of professing supposed regulatory humility, opposing what he called internet regulation and pretending to uphold First Amendment values when it was convenient for him, Pai signaled his eagerness to crack down on Twitter and other companies for exercising their rights to fact check Trump's disinformation." —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
MainStory: FederalNews FCC
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