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Digital access / Federal government / Internet

FCC Chair Ajit Pai is out. What does that mean for the internet?

There will now be two FCC seats, both Republican, to fill in 2021.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at Nextfab in Wilmington on March 8, 2019. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

It’s not exactly a surprise that Trump-appointed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai will be stepping down at the end of the presidential term, after working to remove protections from tech companies like Twitter after Twitter began fact-checking presidential tweets.

Pai, who visited NextFab Wilmington in March of 2019 as part of his Digital Opportunity Tour of New Jersey and Delaware, is serving a term that would have ended in 2023. During the Delaware meet-and-greet promotional tour, Pai talked a lot about broadband accessibility, and very little about net neutrality, the policy that made it illegal for internet service providers to allow better access to some users and degraded access to others — a policy he controversially repealed. He is also known for implementing widespread deregulation during his term.

His departure leaves the FCC with a 2-1 Democratic majority, which will likely become a 3-2 Democratic majority after the exit of Michael O’Rielly, who will leave his position at the end of 2020, assuming Biden appoints one Democrat and one Republican.

That means the net neutrality repeal will likely be reversed, and the crackdown on social media platforms — designed to prevent Trump’s tweets from being fact checked and tagged for breaking the platform’s terms of service — will likely fade away as well.

The deregulation that gave big internet players an advantage over smaller competitors will also likely be gradually reversed over Biden’s first term in office. That’s good news for local companies like WhyFly (and your wallet, as internet prices have spiked over the last four years).

The one thing Pai was enthused to talk about during his Digital Opportunity Tour, accessible broadband for all, is also one thing that the FCC has not delivered over the past four years. In fact, claims that broadband access had increased by huge numbers turned out to be wildly inflated, by Pai’s own admission.

Ars Technica suggests that Pai’s likely successor as chair will be Jessica Rosenworcel, who currently serves as a commissioner on the FCC. That would still leave two spots to fill in 2021.

Companies: Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

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