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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is stepping down; Net Neutrality could return!

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Big changes to the U.S. telecom industry are on the way according to an announcement from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. On January 20th, 2021, the day that Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, Chairman Pai will be leaving the agency that he ran for four years. Surprisingly, Pai was actually nominated to the FCC in 2012 by President Barack Obama who was asked to do so by Senate Republicans. Eventually, Pai was appointed FCC chairman when Donald Trump became president and he became known for his decision to repeal Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality might make a comeback as FCC Chairman Pai announces his departure on inauguration day

The Obama era rule prevents Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and wireless carriers from treating different streams of content, well, differently. Under Net Neutrality, a streaming content provider like Netflix is not allowed to pay a carrier extra money for a faster highway to consumers. Last month, Pai wrote a blog post explaining why he was in favor of removing net neutrality. He blamed the Obama administration for wanting to treat the internet like a slow moving utility using rules from the 1930’s. Pai also said that, “The American people were told that they would get the Internet one word at a time. They were told that they would have to pay $5 per tweet. They were told that it would be the end of the Internet as we know it. It was frightening stuff to be sure, but it was utter nonsense.” Speaking of utter nonsense, a lot of what Pai said over his four years was considered by many to be utter nonsense and when Americans were given the opportunity to comment on the repeal of Net Neutrality, most Americans were in favor of keeping it alive.

And somehow, in the middle of the public comment period over Net Neutrality, it was discovered that the Russians had been using stolen identities with U.S. addresses voting in favor of the repeal of Net Neutrality. Even Pai admitted that this was going on. Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (remember that name; we’ll tell you why soon) wrote, “Something here is rotten—and it’s time for the FCC to come clean.”

Once Pai leaves on inauguration day, the FCC will go from 3-2 Republican to 2-1 Democrat with the aforementioned Rosenworcel mentioned as a possible successor to Pai. A fourth commissioner, Republican Michael O’Rielly, will be saying bye to the FCC at the end of the year because his renomination was pulled by Trump and the president’s choice to replace him has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

For many, Pai’s departure as FCC chairman and his departure from the FCC will be seen as a positive. Congressional Democrats told him after the election to “immediately stop work on all partisan, controversial items” during the transition. Pai wrote today, ““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.“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.”



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