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FCC chair Ajit Pai to leave on January 20 to make way for Biden appointee

Photo of Ajit Pai, chair of US Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Ajit Pai, chair of US Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

The chair of the US Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai, appointed by President Trump, will quit on January 20 to make way for a successor appointed by President-elect Biden, he announced in a statement. “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,” Pai said in a statement.

“As a result, our nation’s communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before,” he added. Pai did not go into detail on the “tough choices” he made for good reason — the one that has gained him the most notoriety is the repeal of Net Neutrality regulations, which effectively stripped ISPs of their classification as utilities like electricity. That decision will likely be reversed by his successor, which some have tipped as Democratic-appointed FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

Even if reversed, as we have pointed out before, the US’s regulations around Net Neutrality, the principle that all data on the internet needs to be treated equally in transit, were not that strong to begin with. The US never prohibited price-based discrimination of data, which allows programs like T-Mobile Binge-On, something that is illegal in India. It is unclear if a Biden appointee would restore the Obama-era rules or pursue all forms of Net Neutrality violations with vigour.

The FCC also acted to start complying with a Trump executive order to relook at Section 230 Communications Decency Act, which protects social media companies’ from liability for their users’ actions. While Biden has, for different reasons than Trump, opposed Section 230, it is unclear if a repeal as desired by Trump will come to pass.

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