Trump to tap Republican Ajit Pai as next FCC chairman

Trump to tap Republican Ajit Pai as next FCC chairman
© Getty

President Trump will tap Republican Ajit Pai, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, to be the agency's new chairman.

Two industry sources confirmed the move to The Hill on Friday.

Pai had been widely expected be picked to succeed Tom Wheeler, the Democrat who has been chair since 2013. Wheeler officially stepped down on Friday as the new administration took power.

ADVERTISEMENT

One source said that Pai is expected to be named the permanent chair and both that an announcement could come as soon as Friday afternoon.

The move, first reported by Politico on Friday, is sure to please many conservatives, as well as those in the tech industry looking for hints as to the new administration's direction on key policies.

A spokeswoman for Pai did not immediately respond when asked to comment.

Pai has been an outspoken critic of many of Wheeler’s signature projects, most notably the net neutrality rules. Pai and the other Republican on the commission, Michael O’Rielly, have said they intend to try to roll back the rules once the GOP takes control of the agency.

Net neutrality is the doctrine that all internet traffic be treated equally.

Any efforts, though, to roll back elements of the rule could spark a massive fight. Internet companies like Google and Netflix have backed the rule, but broadband providers and telecom companies have opposed it.

Pai has been a commissioner since 2012, when he was nominated by former President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

He is favored by the telecommunications industry for his anti-regulatory stances and is widely liked by Republican lawmakers.

Still, some of his positions may clash with the new president. Trump has said little about tech policy, but did come out strongly against the proposed $85 billion AT&T-Time Warner merger.

"As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few," Trump said in a campaign speech in October when the deal was first announced. Trump has since signaled he may soften his stance.

Pai is seen as more favorable toward corporate mergers, leading many to beelive that he would support the AT&T-Time Warner deal. It is unclear, though, if the FCC will also conduct a review.

This story was updated at 3:05 p.m.