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Predictions of net neutrality's demise have been flying ever since the GOP rout in November. Many consumers are on edge, fearing a return to abysmal speeds for Netflix and other streaming content, as well as skyrocketing broadband prices.

But where do American businesses -- especially IT pros -- stand on the issue of regulatory change? After Trump's victory, Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who this week was named as chairman of that agency, vowed to "fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation." Investment, innovation, job creation -- what's not to like, right?To read this article in full or to leave a comment, please click here
Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee in September 2016.Getty Images | Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call reader comments 75 Share this story Comcast, AT&T, and industry lobbyist groups representing ISPs are heaping praise on Ajit Pai, who was appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman by President Donald Trump yesterday. Pai, a Republican commissioner and former lawyer for Verizon, has vowed to undo net neutrality rules and opposed numerous consumer protection regulations passed under his predecessor Tom Wheeler. With Republicans taking control of the commission, Pai has promised "to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations" imposed on ISPs. "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 VP David Cohen said in a statement yesterday. "This is a terrific appointment for the American consumer and the companies the FCC regulates and we look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Pai in his new role.” AT&T Senior Executive VP Bob Quinn concurred, saying that "No one is more prepared to reframe the agency to address the needs of this rapidly changing marketplace.

Chairman Pai will work with his fellow Commissioners to quickly and decisively put back in place the commonsense regulatory framework necessary to support the President’s agenda for job creation, innovation and investment." Consumer advocacy groups, meanwhile, are worried that Pai will consistently obey the bidding of ISPs who want more mergers and fewer consumer protection regulations. Now, we shouldn't read too much into the statements of ISPs.

Telcos regulated by the FCC are always inclined to publicly congratulate the commission's new chair and pledge to work cooperatively with the agency—an ISP isn't going to accomplish its regulatory goals by publicly declaring itself an enemy of the regulator on his first day. Wheeler received similar praise from AT&T and Comcast when he was chosen by then-President Barack Obama in 2013, and Wheeler ended up being a fierce opponent of the cable and wireless industries. But in this case, there is plenty of reason to believe Pai's agenda will line up with the agendas of the country's major ISPs.

During the Obama years, Pai repeatedly sided with ISPs against consumer advocacy groups and Wheeler on issues such as net neutrality, common carrier regulation, online privacy rules, paid data cap exemptions, rules encouraging alternatives to rented set-top boxes, the FCC's broadband speed standard, and more. Despite campaign, Trump FCC looks good for ISPs Trump and ISPs weren't close friends during his campaign. Cohen was a fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, while AT&T regulatory lobbyist and longtime GOP supporter Jim Cicconi supported Clinton too, saying, “This year I think it’s vital to put our country’s well being ahead of party." While campaigning, Trump promised to block AT&T's attempt to buy Time Warner and said he'd consider breaking up the six-year-old merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal.

But now that he's president, it's much less clear whether the Trump administration will take either of those actions.

And with Pai in charge, ISPs are more likely to get what they want at the FCC under Trump than under Clinton, who supported net neutrality rules and wanted to boost broadband competition. Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who is now the cable industry's top lobbyist as head of NCTA—The Internet & Television Association, said that "During his tenure on the Commission, Chairman Pai has consistently demonstrated a common-sense philosophy that consumers are best served by a robust marketplace that encourages investment, innovation and competition." The American Cable Association, which represents small and medium-sized providers, said that Pai "respects and understands the concerns of independent cable operators, especially in those cases where they have been required to shoulder enormous regulatory burdens to the same extent as much larger providers, such as new obligations to comply with the Open Internet's enhanced transparency rules." The United States Telecom Association called Pai "an exceptional choice to head the Federal Communications Commission," and urged him to "ensure our nation's telecommunications innovators can invest and compete on a level regulatory playing field." Meredith Attwell Baker, a former FCC commissioner who now leads CTIA, the top mobile industry lobby group, said that Pai "has championed spectrum and infrastructure reform and is a leading voice for a common sense approach to open Internet and privacy," and praised his work on "reducing regulatory barriers to broadband deployment." CenturyLink said that Pai "will bring a much-needed free market approach to his new role," and that "Hopefully this will result in the thoughtful elimination of outdated, unnecessary federal regulations that stifle investment and no longer reflect rapidly evolving consumer demands and the entry of innovative, new competitors.” Pai will be “formidable opponent” Consumer advocates, meanwhile, are worried about Pai not just because of his policy proposals but also because they believe he will be skilled in enacting his agenda. "The public interest community will not be happy about Commissioner Pai’s promotion to chairman," said Andrew Schwartzman, a Georgetown Law lecturer who led the Media Access Project, a public interest telecommunications law firm, from 1978 to 2012. "He is not only an outspoken detractor from many of the important advances we obtained under Chairman Wheeler, but he is also extremely smart and knowledgeable. He will be a formidable opponent." Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge CEO Gene Kimmelman noted that "Commissioner Pai has a history of attacking consumer protections, from the Open Internet order to our right to privacy online." But the group will not give up on lobbying the commission, saying, "we urge Chairman Pai to preserve consumer protections and to focus on driving down prices and expanding choices for all essential communications services while preserving the Commission’s recent pro-competitive and consumer protection rules and actions.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.FCC reader comments 12 Share this story It looks like Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler will be staying on the FCC a bit longer, but his fellow Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel is on her way out. Wheeler last week said he was willing to step down immediately if the US Senate reconfirmed Rosenworcel to another five-year term.

But the Republican-controlled Senate took no action on Rosenworcel, who must leave the FCC at the end of December if she doesn't get another term. "The Senate wrapped up its business for the year shortly before 7am Saturday, leaving FCC Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel out of its end-of-year deal to advance some pending nominees," Politico reported.

The Senate could theoretically still reconfirm Rosenworcel by unanimous consent, but that isn't likely, Multichannel News explained. Republicans previously said they would not reconfirm Rosenworcel unless Wheeler resigned, because one Democrat must exit the FCC to let President-elect Donald Trump appoint a new Republican and give his party a 3-2 majority.

But by the time Wheeler promised to do so, Republicans had other ideas.

There wasn't enough time left in the Senate's session to handle Rosenworcel's confirmation, Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said. Other Republicans supported taking no action on Rosenworcel because they hope both she and Wheeler will leave and give Republicans an immediate 2-1 majority. With Rosenworcel out, the commission would shift from a 3-2 Democratic majority to a 2-2 deadlock at the beginning of January.

The commission has already halted major rulemakings for the remainder of Obama's presidency at the request of Republicans in Congress. Wheeler now faces a choice of whether to remain on the commission after Trump's inauguration on January 20.

Trump can immediately appoint one of the commission's two Republicans to serve as interim chairman, but Wheeler doesn't have to leave the commission entirely. When contacted by Ars, a spokesperson for Wheeler declined comment on whether he will stay on the commission after the inauguration.

A spokesperson for Rosenworcel has not replied to Ars this morning. Commission chairs generally don't stay long after a new president takes office.

But Wheeler's term doesn't expire until 2018, and Rosenworcel's departure increases the likelihood that he will remain for part of Trump's presidency in order to preserve a 2-2 tie between Republicans and Democrats and delay the potential undoing of net neutrality rules and other major rulemakings passed under his chairmanship. But it's inevitable that Wheeler will find himself in the minority party after Trump appoints a third Republican commissioner.

A Senate confirmation could take several months, but Republicans in Congress will be eager to make it happen. Even if Wheeler stays on past the inauguration to temporarily preserve the 2-2 tie, he wouldn't necessarily remain on the commission through all of 2017. Once Republicans have their majority, they may be willing to vote on a new Democratic nominee to replace Wheeler as a minority party commissioner. Rosenworcel was criticized by some Democrats after holding up a proposal that would have required cable TV operators to make free TV applications that could replace rented set-top boxes.

But she was praised yesterday by House Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who said that "Senate Republicans turned their backs on consumers by failing to reconfirm FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for a second term." Citing Rosenworcel's advocacy for ending the "homework gap" that leaves poor schoolchildren without vital technology, Pallone said, "Her tireless efforts to protect consumers and lift up those in need exemplifies the type of first-rate public servant that Americans deserve.”