Trump names Ajit Pai as FCC chairman

President Donald Trump has named Republican Ajit Pai as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), after previous chair Tom Wheeler stepped down.

Pai, who previously served as counsel for Verizon Communications has sat on the FCC board since he was nominated by President Barack Obama for a Republican Party position in 2012.

In a statement, Pai said: “I am deeply grateful to the President of the United States for designating me the 34th chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. I look forward to working with the new administration, my colleagues at the Commission, members of Congress, and the American public to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans.”

Pai is the first Republican chairman since Kevin Martin 12 years ago. His appointment will raise questions over the future of net neutrality rulesintroduced by predecessor Tom Wheeler in February 2015.

He is an outspoken opponent of net neutrality and voted against the current rules, labelling them a “dangerous” assault on the “culture of the First Amendment.”

His appointment may prove welcome by the industry if he chooses to revoke those net neutrality rules, as is favoured by President Trump.

In a note in December, Pai said: "On the day that the Title II [net neutrality] Order was adopted, I said that 'I don't know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission. But I do believe that its days are numbered.

"Today, I am more confident than ever that this prediction will come true... I'm hopeful that beginning next year, our general regulatory approach will be a more sober one that is guided by evidence, sound economic analysis, and a good dose of humility."

Pai takes over during a time when the FCC may have to rule on a number of proposed mergers, including AT&T’s $85 billion buyout of Time Warner, and Verizon’s takeover of Yahoo.

In the past, Pai has also signalled that he is in favour of mergers and acquisitions. During talk of a potential merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable in 2013, Pai said that a “Republican administration likely would be more inclined to approve a deal.”

The reaction to Pai’s appointment has been positive. Industry trade body 5G Americas congratulated Trump on the move.

Chris Pearson, president of 5G Americas, said: ““5G Americas looks forward to working with the FCC’s next Chairman on the important goals of providing more wireless spectrum to broadband consumers, as well as securing a leadership role for the United States in 5G.”

Pai now takes over an FCC board that has fallen from five members to just three, following Wheeler’s departure and the failure of Congress to accept Jessica Rosenworcel’s renomination after nearly a year.

Trump will be tasked with selecting two more members of the board, but will not be able to appoint more than one Republican, due to strict partisanship rules.