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Net neutrality critic Ajit Pai elevated to FCC chairman, reports say

Why it matters to you

Pai's ascension to FCC's top spot may not be good news for net neutrality and an open internet.

President Donald Trump is expected to name current Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai to the agency’s top job, sources told Politico on Friday. Pai would be able to assume the role of chairman immediately after appointment as he was already confirmed by the senate as a Barack Obama appointee in May 2012.

Pai is a strong opponent of net neutrality and seems like a logical appointment given the Trump administration’s need to fill at least 690 cabinet and sub-cabinet level positions requiring congressional approval. His opinions also seem to jive well with Trump’s stated desire to roll back Obama-era regulations that he believes hurts businesses.

More: Net neutrality threat expected from Trump Administration

Neither Pai nor Trump’s representatives are commenting on the report. However, Pai was widely seen as a top choice for the job. While Pai won’t need confirmation now — good news considering as little as 10 percent of appointments needed confirmation have been made as of Friday according to reports — he will need reconfirmation by the end of 2017 to continue to serve. His current term ends this year.

Pai’s elevation to chairman still leaves a Republican seat open, which Trump will need to fill. There, it is less clear who Trump may choose. One bright note for net neutrality supporters, Trump’s FCC transition team isn’t uniformly opposed to net neutrality.

Republic Wireless co-founder David Morken was appointed to the transition team in December and had previously said that “traditional Republican telecom policy” had too often favored bigger companies at the expense of smaller businesses.

However, Morken’s position is not widely held among those working with Trump on the FCC — so the chances of another anti-net neutrality appointee are fairly high. Regardless of what happens, net neutrality advocates are already sounding the alarm bells over Pai.

“Pai has been an effective obstructionist who looks out for the corporate interests he used to represent in the private sector,” Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. “If the new president really wanted an FCC chairman who’d stand up against the runaway media consolidation that Trump himself decried in the AT&T/Time Warner deal, Pai would have been his last choice — though corporate lobbyists across the capital are probably thrilled.”