New FCC Chairman a Win for Free Speech, Free Enterprise

Ajit Pai exposed cronyism, government overreach in years as commissioner

Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai / AP
January 24, 2017

Ajit Pai will serve as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission after his appointment by President Donald Trump on Monday.

Pai has been an outspoken defender of free speech and freedom of the press, as he's worked to expose the FCC's politicization since he joined the agency in 2012.

Pai gained notice in 2014 when he exposed the FCC's plan to "police the newsroom" through a study that would have sent government-backed researchers into nearly 300 newsrooms to learn how they decide which stories to run.

Pai believes in free markets and less regulation and has promised to "fire up the weed whacker" against net neutrality rules finalized under the Obama administration.

"Management of the internet is, arguably, one of the most important questions of the 21st century," Pai told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview in 2014. "Thus far, my own view is that it's thrived precisely because government has taken a more hands-off role. If the government decides to take a more hands-on role, that's something for everybody—but especially conservatives—to take a look at."

Born to Indian immigrants in Buffalo, N.Y., Pai grew up a Democrat in a small town in Kansas. He graduated with honors from Harvard and received a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School.

Pai later clerked for a federal judge in New Orleans, the Justice Department's anti-trust division, and the Senate Judiciary Committee before joining the FCC in 2007. Five years later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) handpicked Pai as a Republican commissioner for the agency.

The first FCC commissioner on Twitter, Pai is adept at using social media to shine a light on government overreach and cronyism. In addition to ending the FCC's study into "perceived station bias" in newsrooms across the country, Pai helped end an offshoot of the Fairness Doctrine, an anti-free speech policy that required radio and television outlets to air opposing views on political issues.

Pai also exposed how the FCC kept quiet about details of a $10 million fraud scheme in a cell phone subsidy program until the program was expanded.

Additionally, Pai revealed how the "designated entity" (DE) program was perverted from its intended purpose during the Obama era. The program, designed to help small businesses compete in wireless auctions, was used to give discounts to Democratic donors.

Pai called an investigation into the program, which led to DISH Network losing a $3.3 billion subsidy to purchase wireless licenses in 2015. Pai said the company, whose co-founder is a major Democratic donor, used the program to "rip off the American people."

The year before, Democratic commissioners at the FCC voted to allow another Obama donor to receive discounts at wireless auctions, which Pai decried as "unlawful."

As chairman, Pai will prioritize policies to expand high-speed broadband, a move he said will boost the "American can-do spirit" in the digital age.

"I am deeply grateful to the President of the United States for designating me the 34th Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission," Pai said in a statement following his appointment. "I look forward to working 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."

Published under: FCC