GOP expects sweeping change at Trump’s FCC


Republicans are eager to turn the page at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after eight years of policies under President Obama that they say have stifled innovation and burdened the tech sector.

President Trump’s appointment of Ajit Pai as FCC chairman has raised hopes that many of the rules and regulations enacted under Obama — including the controversial net neutrality rules — will soon be on the chopping block.

{mosads}Pai fought against the enactment of former Chairman Tom Wheeler’s signature Open Internet Order, which codified net neutrality, the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally.

Republicans like Pai denounced the FCC order for reclassifying internet service providers as utilities. The move subjected internet providers to heavier regulation, with the FCC effectively taking over regulatory jurisdiction on issues like privacy from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who tried to roll back the net neutrality order through legislation, said Republicans are deliberating how to tackle net neutrality now that the party is in charge of both the executive and legislative branches.

“I think getting some certainty on the net neutrality issue is something that industry would like for us to do,” Blackburn said in an interview with The Hill. “Everyone would like to see some certainty there, and everyone would like to see the FCC back in their correct lanes. FTC should have jurisdiction for privacy.”

Rolling back the rules could involve more than just an FCC action, especially since any regulatory moves could be undone by the next administration.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) — chairmen of the Senate and House Commerce committees, respectively — have both said that they are open to a legislative compromise with Democrats that would preserve the underlying principles of net neutrality while getting rid of the reclassification provisions.

After Pai announced on Monday that he had been tapped by Trump to lead the FCC, Democrats responded with concern, vowing to stand up for net neutrality should he try to undermine it. Pai said in a letter last month that he and Michael O’Rielly, the other Republican on the commission, intended to act on reclassification “as soon as possible.”

The process could take time.

Described by many as a “lawyer’s lawyer,” Pai may take a deliberate approach to tackling the regulations to ensure that he does not open up the FCC’s proceedings to a legal challenge.

“The last thing they want to do is hit the ground running on reclassification only to have it reversed in court,” said one industry source.

Wheeler’s net neutrality rules have already survived legal challenges, and any actions by Pai are likely to be met with lawsuits as well.

Conservatives say they are encouraged by Pai’s deregulatory mindset.

“One important part of Chairman Pai’s program, I believe, will be to eliminate a lot of regulations that aren’t even the high-profile ones that everyone is focusing on,” said Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation, a conservative advocacy group.

“He’s going to go systematically through these legacy regulations that remain on the books that are no longer necessary to fulfill their original purpose.”

There won’t be much of a learning curve for Pai as chairman. Ten years ago, the lawyer was hired to work in the FCC general counsel’s office after having served at the Justice Department’s antitrust division and for Republicans on the Hill, with a stint at Verizon in between.

In 2012, he was nominated by Obama at the recommendation of then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to fill one of the two seats on the commission that are traditionally reserved for the opposition party.

Over the years, Pai was a vocal dissenter to the regulations pushed by Wheeler and the Obama administration, often seeking to drum up opposition by writing op-eds against them.

In a speech to the Free State Foundation in December, Pai likened those years to the 2005 pop song “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter.

“[S]erving in the minority at the Federal Communications Commission for the last few years, there have been many times when the song’s lyrics have resonated with me: ‘Cause you had a bad day, you’re taking one down, you sing a sad song just to turn it around,’ ” he said.

He added later, “But I’m optimistic that last month’s election will prove to be an inflection point — and that during the Trump administration, we will shift from playing defense at the FCC to going on offense.”

Tags John Thune Marsha Blackburn Mitch McConnell
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