January 20 was Ajit Pai’s last day as FCC chairman, a position he held since President Trump made the appointment in January 2017. In his time at the head of the US Federal Communications Commission, Pai led the agency to dismantle former chairman Tom Wheeler’s strong regulation of telecom companies. In doing so, Pai prioritized the interests and profits of companies like Comcast and AT&T over everyday people.
As acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel steps in with the Biden administration and we wait to see what’s ahead, here’s a recap of Pai’s worst moves over the past four years. Let’s call it a ‘what not to do’ for President Biden’s admin. (The good news is that Rosenworcel has already been a clear supporter of net neutrality in her time as an FCC commissioner.)
When Pai’s FCC first introduced its plans to repeal net neutrality and opened them to public comment, it received millions of responses. Some of the responses which agreed with Pai were surely legitimate, but it’s hard to imagine that the general public loves Comcast so much that it went to bat for ISPs en masse. Sure enough, some of the responses were likely fraudulent, but the FCC mostly ignored evidence that many messages were attached to names of the deceased and analysis that pointed to the vast majority of the real comments being pro-net neutrality.
Pai then fought against New York Times and BuzzFeed information requests on the IP addresses behind the comments, a legal fight that dragged on until 2020 when a judge ruled in favor of the publications.
December 17, 2017: The FCC votes to repeal net neutrality
Pai fought for the repeal of net neutrality, which lifted rules barring ISPs from throttling internet speeds on certain websites and services. It was a reversal of a landmark decision in 2015 to classify ISPs under Title II of the US Telecommunications Act, which allowed the FCC to regulate providers as utilities. Pai argued that less regulation would encourage more competition, calling the rollback, which favored corporations, “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” setting a precedent for being wrong.
The changes went into effect in 2018, though the order was argued in courts through 2019. Individual states chose to enact their own regulations, which Pai also tried to block. A court ruled that the FCC couldn’t preemptively block state regulations, and the issue remains in contention today.
December 2017: Pai’s bad Harlem Shake video
Uummm Chair of @FCC who wants to take away net neutrality today appears in video with one of #pizzagate fake news conspiracy theorists. WTF is happening?https://t.co/1l4KBZmeJ4December 14, 2017
In a bewildering move to promote the repealing of net neutrality, Pai starred in a video called 7 Things You Can Still Do On The Internet After Net Neutrality. The video was posted by The Daily Caller, a right-wing website with a long history of hosting white supremacists (the video was even produced by the Proud Boys). This was early in the Trump presidency, when this sort of thing was still shocking.
Instead of making any real argument for deregulation in the video, Pai holds a fidget spinner and poorly imitates the Harlem Shake, a meme that was already four years old in 2017. It sucked pretty hard.
The FCC’s site crashed hard in spring 2017 when millions of comments (real and fake) were posted about its impending net neutrality repeal. For months the FCC claimed the cause was a malicious cyberattack until finally admitting that it was just a poorly designed system crashing under heavy traffic—which Pai knew before the truth was made public.
May 2019: Pai exaggerates actual broadband expansion
From the beginning of his tenure as chairman of the FCC, Pai’s primary stated goal was to increase broadband deployment across the country. Over 20 million US citizens still have no access to high-speed internet. That number hasn’t significantly shrunk since Pai took the helm, despite what he’d have you believe. In 2019, Pai had to walk back inaccurate figures that inflated an increase in broadband investments. Despite this lie, Pai still argued that deployment was progressing on a “reasonable and timely basis,” which 20 million Americans might disagree with.
April 2020: Pai approves L-band 5G despite concerns from NASA, Navy, and DOD
Last year, Pai’s FCC approved an application by Ligado Networks to open the 1-2 gigahertz frequency range (known as the L-band) to 5G networks. His approval came after open letters from NASA, the Navy, and Department of Defense outlining possible interferences with important weather and GPS equipment that uses the same frequency range.
One good thing Ajit Pai did: Drink out of this stupid mug
Reese’s in Pieces to Ajit Pai, one of the realest chuds in the game pic.twitter.com/dNuJVD27n7January 20, 2021
Maybe the only good thing to come out of Pai’s time at the FCC is his big Reese’s mug, which is so ridiculous someone filed a FOIA request for Pai’s emails related to it (as usual with Pai’s administration, the FCC stonewalled). Still, we appreciate that the mug gave us the perfect image to accompany every story about Pai’s stewardship of the FCC with a big, orange reminder of his loyalty to corporate interests.