Ajit Pai for FCC chairman creates yet another confrontation

I was expecting a bit of angst and infighting over some of Trump’s cabinet appointments, particularly at State, EPA and Justice, but somehow I thought the new Chairman of the FCC would be a non-event. That may not be the case, however, because the selection of Ajit Pai is going to drag the whole net neutrality question back into the spotlight. It’s really not a question of qualifications because Pai has worked as a trial attorney on the Telecommunications Task Force, served as Associate General Counsel at Verizon and he’s already been on the FCC since 2012 when he was unanimously confirmed. But moving him into the Chairman’s position will put yet another bee under liberal bonnets. (LA Times)

President Trump on Monday designated Ajit Pai, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission and an outspoken opponent of new net neutrality rules, to be the agency’s new chairman.

Pai, 44, would take over for Tom Wheeler, a Democrat who stepped down on Friday. Wheeler’s term had not expired but Trump gets to designate a new chairman as Republicans gain the FCC majority.

“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,” Pai said.

Net Neutrality is one of those subjects where I find myself being rather uncomfortable and frequently outside the mainstream of conservative opinion. On the surface, the entire idea of net neutrality is arguably abhorrent because it flies in the face of free market capitalism and gives at least the appearance of granting the federal government the power to pick winners and losers. When my friends bring up these points I can’t really deny that perception and it’s one which Pai brings with him to the job. (He’s probably most famous for saying he wants to take a weed whacker to net neutrality.)

At the same time, the idea of control of the flow of data and modern digital service providers leaves me troubled. It’s more of a subject which edges closer to questions of anti-trust concerns. It’s easy enough to echo what Pai has said in the past in terms of net neutrality rules “holding back investment, innovation and job creation.” In a truly open, competitive market that would obviously be the case. But this is a market where competition is largely a sham. Consumer choices remain limited, particularly when examined in regional terms, and there is little sign of downward pressure on pricing and improved offerings that one would see in a truly competitive market. If you think that doesn’t happen in the open market, just look at the level of “competition” in the airline industry. Have you noticed service on your flights improving and prices going down as fuel costs decrease as a result of competition? Enough said.

Treating the internet like a public utility and allowing the government to micromanage it is still many steps too far for me. On that score I can agree with Pai and his expected vision and direction on this question. But at the same time, a completely open, wild west environment for digital providers doesn’t strike me as something which will work out in the consumer’s best interests either. Sadly, I’m unaware of a compromise between the two positions with any support.