With the stroke of President Donald Trump’s pen, Ajit Pai was appointed Monday as the official successor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who resigned last Friday. Pai—a Republican who has served as an FCC commissioner since 2012—had widely been expected to be designated as interim FCC chairman upon Wheeler’s departure. Because Pai had already undergone the Senate confirmation process in connection with his role as FCC commissioner, no further hearings on his promotion to the chairmanship were required, thus allowing Pai to assume his new responsibilities immediately. Because Pai’s previous term as FCC commissioner expired last June, however, he will have to be reconfirmed by the end of the current congressional session in 2018.
Presently, Pai will lead an agency that has two other Commissioners in service—Republican Michael O’Rielly and Democrat Mignon Clyburn—as well as two vacant seats. President Trump has yet to announce a Republican nominee to fill Pai’s previous position as FCC commissioner. It remains unclear whether Trump will proceed with the recently-revived nomination of Democrat
Jessica Rosenworcel to reclaim her seat as FCC commissioner or withdraw Rosenworcel in favor of his own nominee.
Meanwhile, industry executives joined leaders in Congress in congratulating Pai. As Verizon Communications senior vice president Kathleen Grillo commended Pai as “a strong advocate of smart, forward-looking policies” and “a proponent of innovation and new ideas that will benefit consumers,” AT&T senior executive vice president Bob Quinn predicted that Pai “will work with his fellow commissioners to quickly and decisively put back in place the commonsense regulatory framework necessary to support . . . job creation, innovation and investment.” House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) joined House Communications Subcommittee Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in welcoming the news, declaring: “we’re looking forward to working with [Pai] to advance conservative, thoughtful solutions at the FCC.”
Some public interest groups, however, voiced concern that Pai’s agenda will include a rollback of net neutrality, broadband privacy and other rules that were adopted under Wheeler’s leadership. Expressing his gratitude to Trump “for designating me the 34th Chairman of the FCC,” Pai vowed to work “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.”