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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Announces Departure from Agency

Pai, most known for his part in the rollback of Obama-era net neutrality regulations, announced that he would be departing the agency before his term on the commission ends in July 2021.

Chairman of Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai testifies during a hearing before Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at Russell Senate Office Building June 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Pai said he'll leave the agency Jan. 20. (Alex Wong/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)
(TNS) — U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said he'll leave the agency Jan. 20, eliminating the possibility of a holdover Republican majority at the agency that could have temporarily stymied changes sought by the incoming Biden administration.

Since being elevated to the chairmanship by President Donald Trump in 2017, Pai, a Republican, has led the commission in dismantling net neutrality regulations and pushed for fast wireless broadband service.

Pai's term as a commissioner extends to July 2021 and he could have stayed on as a commissioner, without the chairman's power to set the agency's agenda, but has opted not to.

With another Republican leaving after his term expired, the FCC will have a 2-to-1 Democratic majority on Inauguration Day unless the Senate confirms Nathan Simington, a Republican whose nomination is to be considered Dec. 2 by the Commerce Committee.

Simington has backed Trump's bid to rein in social media companies, and it's not clear he has enough support among senators to succeed. If he is confirmed, Pai would have three Republican votes until he leaves. After that the agency would be left to operate under a Democratic chair, but at a 2-to-2 partisan deadlock, until a Biden nominee is confirmed.

Under Pai the FCC in 2017 revoked so-called net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration that barred broadband service providers from interfering with web traffic — for instance by slowing competitors' content.

Pai's change gutted the FCC's authority over Internet service providers. It was welcomed by carriers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

Since the vote, Pai has pointed to increased broadband availability as vindication. Critics have cited competing data and insisted rules are needed. The debate is likely to continue into the term of President-elect Joe Biden.

Pai pressed to assign more airwaves for high-speed mobile broadband. The FCC sold airwaves in an auction that attracted more than $4 billion in bidding that concluded in August, and has scheduled a sale for December.

Pai, 47, promised "light-touch" regulation, and he used his time in office to reduce FCC rules. He has been a member of the five-person commission since 2012.

©2020 Bloomberg News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC