Net neutrality boost for the US as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai steps down

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Ajit Pai, chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is to step down in January, paving the way for net neutrality to be reintroduced as a pillar of communications regulation in America.

Net neutrality legislation was introduced by the Obama administration and forbade service providers from prioritising certain applications beyond standard traffic management measures and from charging content providers for additional fees for the preferential treatment.

It was feared such practices would threaten the development of an open Internet and make it more difficult for startups and innovative applications to compete with larger players. The EU and the UK have both adopted the principles of net neutrality.

US net neutrality

Like many other government institutions in the US, commissioners are nominated and appointed on party lines and Pai was the choice of President Donald Trump back in 2017. Pai quickly garnered controversy for his opposition to net neutrality despite his protestations that his approach to broadband was “practical not ideological.”

No major US broadband provider has taken advantage of their newfound power but supporters of an open Internet will hope that a more Democratic slant to the FCC will see the provisions restored.

Pai has also overseen 5G auctions and taken action when operators have sold user ata without permission, but it is net neutrality that will define his legacy. His term was due to end in June 2021 but he has announced his intention to leave on January 20 – the same day as President Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

“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,” he said. “It’s also been an honor to work with my fellow Commissioners to execute a strong and broad agenda. Together, we’ve delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety.

“And this FCC has not shied away from making tough choices. As a result, our nation’s communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before.  

“I’m also proud of the reforms we have instituted to make the agency more accountable to the American people. In particular, for the first time ever, we’ve made public drafts of the proposals and orders slated for a vote three weeks before the agency’s monthly meetings, making this the most transparent FCC in history.”

By law, only three of the five commissioners can come from a single party and Pai’s departure paves the way for a more Democratic slant to regulation and one that will likely reintroduce net neutrality legislation.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.