President Donald Trump has named Ajit Pai, an outspoken opponent of net neutrality, the new chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission on Monday. He will take over from Democrat Tom Wheeler, an Obama appointee who led the agency for three years and stepped down on Friday.
Pai is a telecommunications lawyer and former counsel for Verizon whom President Barack Obama appointed as a senior Republican party commissioner at the FCC in 2012.
Having served the FCC for over three years, he will not require Senate approval as chairman. However, his current term will expire at year end and will need to be reconfirmed to continue.
Pai wrote in a Twitter post, adding that he was looking forward to working with his colleagues, the Trump administration and Congress "to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans."
"There is so much we can do together to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans and to promote innovation and investment," Pai tweeted. "From broadband to broadcast, I believe in a 21st-century version of Jefferson's 2nd Inaugural: we are all Republicans, we are all Democrats."
During his tenure at the FCC, Pai has opposed numerous consumer protection initiatives by the Commission's Democratic majority and vehemently objected against the sweeping net neutrality regulations passed in February 2015. Based on the principles of net neutrality - which advocates that all websites and apps be treated equally - those regulations require broadband providers to treat all legal content equally and barred the unfair blockage or slowing down of content.
During talk of a potential Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger in 2013, Pai noted, "A Republican administration likely would be more inclined to approve a deal."
As chairman of the FCC, Pai - a free-market advocate - will likely roll back many of the Obama Administration's telecommunications and internet policies and has already stated that he is looking to dismantle the current net neutrality rules and revisit other FCC rules as well.
"During the Trump Administration, we will shift from playing defense at the FCC to going on offense," Pai said in December. "We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation."
"On the day that the Title II [net neutrality] Order was adopted, I said that 'I don't know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission. But I do believe that its days are numbered,'" he continued. "Today, I am more confident than ever that this prediction will come true... I'm hopeful that beginning next year, our general regulatory approach will be a more sober one that is guided by evidence, sound economic analysis, and a good dose of humility."
During Wheeler's tenure, major telecom and cable companies often clashed over multiple major issues such as stricter broadband privacy rules. net neutrality regulations and a proposal that would free consumers from set-top box rentals.
The five-member board on the FCC currently has three members - one Democrat and two Republicans, including Pai. There are two vacancies left for Trump to fill. However, he can only name one more Republican since no more than three members on the board can be from the same party.
Pai's appointment has already been praised by multiple telecom giants including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Frontier Communication, T-Mobile and others.
"We commend [Pai's] tireless efforts to develop and support policies that benefit American consumers and spur greater investment and innovation in broadband technologies to connect all Americans and drive job creation," Comcast senior executive vice president David Cohen said in a statement.
However, net neutrality advocacy groups have voiced their concerns over Pai's appointment.
Craig Aaron, head of the advocacy group Free Press said Pai "has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure."
"He's never met a mega-merger he didn't like or a public safeguard he didn't try to undermine," Aaron said, Reuters reports.
On his last day in office, Wheeler tweeted: "Upon my @FCC departure, I would like to sign off with 3 words of wisdom that guided me well: competition, competition, competition."
Pai grew up in Parsons, Kansas as the son of immigrants from India.