Technology

Week ahead: FCC soon to be in Republican Pai's hands

President Trump has settled on Republican Ajit Pai as his choice for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, sources told The Hill Friday.

The move was widely expected and certain to be welcomed by Republican lawmakers.

Look for Pai to hit the ground running as soon as the pick is made official.

Pai is currently a commissioner on the FCC board and an outspoken critic of many of the regulations pushed by former Chairman Tom Wheeler, who stepped down Friday.

Most notably, he has been a fierce opponent of the net neutrality rules enshrined in the FCC's Open Internet Order, and all signs point to Republicans gearing up to roll back elements of the regulation.

Pai has had good relations with congressional Republicans and he will be closely watched as he works with House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and his Senate counterpart, Chairman John Thune, (R-S.D.) to undo the many tech and telecom regulations passed under the Obama administration.

But some believe that Pai could also be at odds with the Trump administration on some issues.

Pai is generally lauded by the industry for his anti-regulatory stance, leading many to believe that he will look favorably at the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger if it comes under FCC scrutiny.

But Trump himself came out hard against the $85 billion deal during the campaign. Though, in recent days he's suggested he is still deciding his stance, telling Axios in an interview that "I haven't seen any of the facts." That remark came just one day after he met with Pai at Trump Tower and less than a week after AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson paid Trump a visit.

A report from Multichannel News last week also said the new president's team is eyeing a massive overhaul of the FCC. The changes could shift many of their efforts on consumer protection handed off to the Federal Trade Commission.

FCC chairman is only one of many tech posts that Trump will need to fill in the coming weeks.

One post tech watchers will be anticipating is a replacement for Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith.

There'll be continuity in one key office though. Trump is keeping Patent and Trademark Office Director Michelle Lee as the head of that agency.

Both chambers of Congress will be back in session in the coming week with the Senate and House Commerce Committees holding meetings on Tuesday.

The Senate panel will take a look at a number of tech bills, including Thune's MOBILE Now Act, which is also sponsored by Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Thune reintroduced the bill earlier this month to try to free up more wireless spectrum for commercial use.

Also on the Senate panel's agenda, the DIGIT Act, which seeks to boost the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), and the SANDY Act, which would shore up communications networks during emergencies. Those two bills have bipartisan support.

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