Ajit Pai: Telecom’s Man in Washington

Idgit Pai, FCC Chairman

By Wayne Porter

Born to be a Bureaucrat

Ajit Pai was appointed as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year by President Trump. Here are some biographical facts about him:

  • Born January 10, 1973, in Buffalo NY.
  • Graduated Harvard BA Social Studies 1994
  • Graduated University Chicago with Law degree in 1997
  • Honors Program trial attorney on the Telecommunications Task Force for the United States Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division
  • Associate General Counsel at Verizon from 2001 to 2003
  • Various job in government from 2003 to 2007 working for the US Senate and Justice Department
  • From 2007 to 2011 he worked as counsel for FCC
  • 2011 to 2012 worked in private sector for Jenner & Block
  • Nominated in 2011 to FCC confirmed in May 2012
  • Made Chairman in Jan 2017
  • FCC Commission Term has been expired since June 2016

Sued Under Freedom of Information Act

Websites Gizmodo, Ars Technica, and the non-profit organization American Oversight have all sued Pai and the Federal Communications Commission for information under the Freedom of Information Act. They have sued for information about such things as Pai’s meetings with Internet Service Providers and the spam Net Neutrality comment attack on the FCC website. They have been rebuffed for one reason or another.
American Oversight asked for any information about the FCC’s meetings with ISPs concerning Net Neutrality. Gizmodo asked for any information about the Distributed Denial of Service Attack on the FCC website’s comment system that crashed it in May. The DDoS attack had the effect of obfuscating the real comments on the FCC’s plan to change Net Neutrality rules. The FCC has repeatedly asked for delays for the American Oversight request and denied it had any “written information” in the Gizmodo suit. For someone who has promised to make the FCC “more transparent,” Pai seems to be generating an awful lot of smoke.

Things That Ajit Pai Opposes  

  • Rate caps for inmate calls - In the past, prisoners have paid as much as $14 per minute for phone calls.
  • Rule to give customers cheaper alternatives to rented set top boxes - This would allow for increased competition, and would be better for consumers.
  • Rules to protect consumer’s privacy -  One of Pai’s first actions as FCC Chairman was to ax Internet Privacy rules that were slated to go into effect this year.
  • Increased speed for broadband standards - Pai is actually thinking of reducing minimum speed in order to be classified as "High Speed" internet.
  • Investigating AT&T and Verizon - Pai dropped the investigation of AT&T and Verizon immediately after becoming Chairman.
  • Expansion of Municipal Broadband - Pai withdrew support for rules that would have allowed cities to provide internet access to their residents.
  • Less expensive Broadband for people who can’t afford it - Pai curtailed Lifeline program that subsidizes phone and internet service for lower income families.

Free Market is Not the Same as Crony Capitalism

Ajit Pai and many industry representatives use the term “free market” to describe themselves, but what they actually practice is what is known as crony capitalism. That is where government bureaucrats and the like give special privileges to some businesses at the expense of others. It could be that Pai is expecting (another) nice cushy job at Verizon or some telecom lobbying group after he guts all the regulations reining them in. According to the TechCrunch website, Pai has previously performed legal work for Cablevision, Charter, Nielsen, Securus, Verizon, AOL, and others. Pai definitely seems to have the idea that he works for the corporations of the United States and not the citizens. He doesn’t even try to hide it.

Securus and Conflict of Interest Charge

Ajit Pai was accused of having a conflict of interest by Human Rights Defense Center Executive Director Paul Wright when he discontinued ongoing FCC attempts to cap intrastate phone rates charged to prisoners. One of Pai's previous employers was Securus, a prison phone company that benefited from the abandonment of the caps when Pai took over as Chairman of the FCC.

Whoa, The Internet is Too Fast

The FCC has just begun proceedings that may actually lower the speed guidelines for home Internet. Pai thinks that mobile broadband could be a viable substitute for fast home Internet. That way Internet Service Providers like Verizon and Comcast won't be required to build out service to homes, saving Pai’s former boss a ton of money. Mobile speeds are generally much slower than wired, home Internet and there may be charges if a subscriber goes over a certain limit - sometimes as much as $15 per gigabit of data. Although the major mobile companies just released “unlimited” plans, most of these plans do slow down speeds if usage goes over a certain amount. By the way, where Pai lives in Virginia he has a variety of Internet choices, two of them with speeds of over 200 Mbps. Most people in other parts of the country aren't so lucky.

The One And Only Formal Net Neutrality Complaint is Against Verizon

Although there have been tens of thousands of informal complaints about Net Neutrality, there has only been one formal complaint. Maybe in part because it costs $225.00 to file one officially. That complaint is against Verizon. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai tried to ignore it when he announced he was trying to roll back Net Neutrality by saying there haven't been any formal complaints. He changed that later to one formal complaint. It is unclear if he is trying to run out the clock on the complaint by doing away with Net Neutrality rules before having to decide the complaint. Alex Nguyen filed the complaint last year - a 112-page document with over 300 citations that took months to assemble.

Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

Earlier this year, Pai created an “advisory group” called the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), made up of business leaders to give advice to municipalities. To fend off any accusations of bias toward corporations, he included a member or two who wasn’t an obvious representative of corporate interests. Representation was included from AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp., Sprint Corp. and other corporations. It shouldn’t be a surprise as the purpose of the commission was to “accelerate the deployment of high-speed Internet access, or ‘broadband,’ by reducing and/or removing regulatory barriers.” Notice how it is to accelerate deployment by reducing barriers, not for example, by holding ISPs accountable, encouraging competition, honestly evaluating the best course of action, or anything that might limit the profit making potential of the ISPs. The committee did include token representation from a few municipalities but an FCC spokesperson said they purposely didn’t include many because it was the municipalities that were the ones that needed guidance from the telecoms. In other words, the telecoms were going to be telling the cities what to do and the telecoms were doing everything in the best interest of the people and didn’t need any guidance.

A Limited Amount of Work

Between his time at various government agencies, Pai worked for the law firm Jenner and Block. As a way of distancing himself from any work he did at the law firm, he has said that he only did a “limited amount of work” for the law firm. So he did a “limited amount of work” for a whole year while he was a partner at a law firm? What does that say about his work ethic? More importantly, does anyone actually believe that?