Ajit Pai, current chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, announced on Monday he will step down from the post on January 20th when President-Elect Joe Biden assumes office.
The announcement from Pai means that the FCC could gain a Democratic majority earlier than initially expected. Pai’s term wasn’t up until June 2021, although Biden could still name a Democrat to the commission after entering the Oval Office. Any Commissioner he chose would then need to be confirmed by the Senate.
Ajit Pai and Net Neutrality
Pai voted in-line with other Republicans in 2017, choosing to remove rules that prevented internet providers from throttling traffic to certain websites and creating “high-speed lanes” for higher prices.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years,I am grateful to President Trump for giving me the opportunity to lead the agency in 2017, to President Obama for appointing me as a Commissioner in 2012, and to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the Senate for twice confirming me. To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a privilege. As I often say: only in America.” Statement by Statement by Ajit Pai regarding his resignation from the FCC
Status of CDA’ Section 230 Clause
Pai recently said the FCC could move forward with President Trump’s recent executive order to crack down on social media companies. Pai announced the general counsel had determined the FCC had the legal authority to interpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that protects tech platforms from being held liable for what their users post and removing those posts. Pai leaving his post makes it unlikely that the commission will move forward with legislation any time soon given that the decision was rejected by the two Democratic commissioners.
The commissions are made of five people, with no more than three from one party or another. The president can appoint a chair of the commission by choosing an existing commissioner or someone from outside the commission, such as current Democratic commissioners Geoffrey Starks and Jessica Rosenworcel.
Remaining Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr has several years left in his current term, but the other two seats are open. Trump revoked his earlier nomination of Republican Mike O’Rielly to maintain his position in August after he expressed reservations about acting on Trump’s executive order targeting Section 230. His replacement, Nathan Simington, testified before Senate but has yet to be confirmed.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said he would block Simington from being confirmed unless he agreed to not vote in matters related to Section 230. Simington, who works for the Commerce Department, acknowledged he had a “minor role” in drafting the petition demanding the FCC reinterpret the law following Trump’s executive order.