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Meet Ajit Pai, the Indian-origin FCC chief at centre of ‘net neutrality’ debate in US

Ajit Pai said the FCC will vote on December 14 to rescind the so-called net neutrality rules championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama.

tech Updated: Nov 22, 2017 13:51 IST
Net neutrality,Ajit Pai,Federal Communications Commission
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, testifies before a US Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, US.(Reuters File Photo)

The top US telecom regulator has formally unveiled plans to roll back “net neutrality” rules adopted in 2015 that were aimed at treating all online traffic equally. At the centre of the debate is Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai, an Indian-origin Republican appointed by President Donald Trump in January.

Pai said on Tuesday the regulatory agency will vote at a December 14 meeting on his plan to rescind the so-called net neutrality rules championed by Democratic former president Barack Obama that treated internet service providers like public utilities.

Pai said the action would remove heavy-handed internet regulations. Critics said it would let internet service providers give preferential treatment to some sites and apps and allow them to favour their own digital content.

Pai, whose mother is from Bengaluru and father from Hyderabad, was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1973. His parents came to the US to work as doctors in rural Kansas.

He was named to the FCC by Obama and is a lawyer by training. Pai went to the University of Harvard and the University of Chicago, and served in several positions in the Department of Justice and the US Congress.

“Chairman Pai’s regulatory philosophy is informed by a few simple principles. Rules that reflect these principles will result in more innovation, more investment, better products and services, lower prices, more job creation, and faster economic growth,” the FCC’s website says about Pai.

Apart from working as associate general counsel at Verizon for two years, Pai’s career has mostly comprised government roles.

A CNN report on Pai says: “(He) often goes out of his way to be nice. He’s the kind of person who remembers co-workers’ birthdays or your kids’ first names. It doesn’t matter if you’re a congressman from California or the parking attendant at the lot near the FCC’s headquarters, Pai offers a folksy and sincere greeting to all. He always has a kind word for colleagues, even when they stand on the opposite side of the aisles.”

The report quotes Gigi Sohn, a former adviser to the previous FCC head, as saying in an interview: “He’s a great guy to have a beer with.”

“But don’t be fooled. He’s in favour of dismantling net neutrality and other consumer-friendly policies, and he’ll do it with a smile,” she adds.

Pai said on Tuesday his proposal would prevent state and local governments from creating their own net neutrality rules because internet service is “inherently an interstate service.”

The Federal Communication Commission, which is an independent body overseen by the US Congress, regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in the country.

The Obama-era rules, aimed at giving consumers equal access to web content, barred broadband providers from blocking or slowing down access to content or charging consumers more for certain content.

A US appeals court last year upheld the legality of the net neutrality regulations, which were challenged in a lawsuit led by telecommunications industry trade association US Telecom. The group praised Pai’s decision to remove “antiquated, restrictive regulations” to “pave the way for broadband network investment, expansion and upgrades”.

Pai said in an interview on Fox News Radio that Trump did not have any input on his proposal.

First Published: Nov 22, 2017 13:42 IST