U.S. President Donald Trump has appointed Ajit Pai, previously a senior Republican on the five-member Federal Communications Commission, to be the chairman of the FCC, thus making him the country’s chief regulator. Pai is an outspoken opponent of the approach advocated by the previous head, Tom Wheeler, and has urged broad-based deregulation of the telecom industry. “In the months to come, we also need to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations,” Pai said in December speech. “The regulatory underbrush at the FCC is thick. We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.”
Pai, a longtime telecom industry lawyer who once worked for Verizon, can be expected to foster a very different climate in the U.S. mobile marketplace. Among his targets will likely be the net neutrality restrictions imposed under the Obama administration and upheld in U.S. Appeals Court in June. Currently, non-discrimination rules prevent service providers in general from giving any entity a “fast lane” to deliver content over the internet, while mobile operators in particular are no longer allowed to throttle network speeds after spending limits have been reached. If the FCC were to overturn some or all of the net neutrality regulations, operators would once again be able to generate revenue by giving special access to content providers willing to pay for the privilege.
Pai has also opposed the FCC’s privacy regulations that prevent ISPs from sharing customer data with marketers without first asking permission from those customers, so that question will likely also be opened up again. Based on some of Pai’s earlier comments, telecom deregulation under the Trump administration’s FCC may also include leveling the playing field between mobile operators on the one hand and internet companies such as Google and Facebook that intend to be competitors in the voice-calling and messaging spaces.
Of course, much of the outcome depends on court decisions when it comes to deregulation, but it is clear that however Pai’s “weed whacker” ends up being wielded, the telecom landscape in the U.S. will be altered over the next four years.