The FCC’s new chairman just had his first real interview — here’s what it tells us about him
By Jacob Kastrenakes
Feb 23 2017
Ajit Pai has been in charge of the FCC for about a month, and everyone’s still wondering what he’s gonna do with the place. Is he going to go full deregulation? Scale back here and there on his predecessor’s achievements? Focus on bipartisan issues?
So far we haven’t heard all that much from him on his plans, but on Wednesday, Pai stopped by CNBC’s Squawk on the Street for his first hard-hitting interview as chairman (he also spoke with Fox Business the other day, but it was much less eventful).
Squawk anchors David Faber and Jim Cramer got in six questions with Pai, during which he gave some vague but occasionally telling answers. You can watch the full interview below, but we’re also annotating some key parts of Pai’s answers to get a better sense for what he’s actually looking to do.
Questions are heavily paraphrased, answers are condensed.
Questions 1 & 2: When are you going to dismantle Title II protection of net neutrality? No seriously, when?
Pai: “That’s one of the things we’re discussing. But I think the end goal is to preserve the free and open internet that we had for two decades, starting in the Clinton administration. … For two decades the proof was in the pudding that the consumer was best served with light touch regulation, and I think that’s the end result that we’re hoping to achieve.”
Translation: It sounds pretty clear here that Pai doesn’t just want to pull back on some of the heavier net neutrality protections, but actually revert back to the old regulatory regime, removing the Title II designation his predecessor used to ensure strong open internet protections. Pai has long said that he thinks some of the things net neutrality protects can be done simply by encouraging competition, and he’s advocating here for going back to a time when internet providers could more or less do what they wanted without the FCC getting involved. How will he do that? It’s not clear, but he says he’d like it to happen “on a bipartisan basis.”
Question 3: Do you think Congress or the FCC will act on net neutrality first?
Pai: “Both houses of Congress are actively considering that issue, and I certainly stand ready to assistant them in their efforts. The other thing they’re considering, which is important, I think, is including broadband as part of an infrastructure package, and I very vigorously proposed that.”
Translation: I don’t know, but it would be nice if internet providers got tax cuts to build things.
Question 4: How should a broadband infrastructure package work?
Pai: “[I proposed] creating what I’ve called ‘gigabit opportunity zones’ to give the private sector the maximum incentive to deploy in low income, rural, and urban areas. I’ve also talked about things the FCC can and should do to remove some of the regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.”
Translation: Tax cuts for internet providers, specifically in areas where the average household income is below about $40,000. Pai’s plan would also require towns to enact policies that make it faster and cheaper for internet providers to set up shop — though he doesn’t go into detail on what those are. Notably, little of this plan can be accomplished by the FCC; it’s pretty much all up to Congress to make this happen.