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It's a question worth asking: Why is the FCC boss being such a jerk?
The answer – because net-neutrality slayer Ajit Pai wants to stay in charge
Needless to say, Pai has done all he can to ingratiate himself with Trump. In the first seven weeks as chairman, he killed off the cable industry's most-hated FCC plan of squashing its cable box scam and made huge play of changing a few not-very-important rules as a sign of his red-tape slashing agenda.
He then railed against the former administration while announcing his own new transparency plans – from now on, FCC papers would be available in advance and made public.
And then he took the decision to kill off already-approved data privacy rules: something that delighted not just cable companies but also Congressional Republicans.
And just for good measure, he made repeated but vague claims that he would shut down net neutrality – while carefully avoiding questions and journalists who might press him on the details.
And, yet again, it paid off. Pai had a meeting with Trump at the White House to discuss the data privacy rules where he pressed the president for a second term. One part of the payoff: a piece of legislation going through Congress to kill the "Obama era" rules once and for all. Soon after, Trump renominated Pai for another term at the FCC.
"I am deeply honored to have been nominated by President Trump to serve a second term on the Federal Communications Commission," Pai said in a statement. "If I am fortunate to be confirmed by the Senate, I will continue to work with my colleagues to connect all Americans with digital opportunity, foster innovation, protect consumers, promote public safety, and make the FCC more open and transparent to the American people."
And so now all Pai has to do is get Senate confirmation.
Which should be an easy thing, in theory, but even with both houses of Congress having Republican majorities is far from a certain thing, thanks in no small part to Trump's difficult and unstable nature.
It is all too possible that between now and his confirmation hearing, Senate Republicans sour on Trump and anyone associated too closely with him pays the price. And so Pai has now turned his attention to the Republican party.
And that explains two things: one, why he allowed his significant net neutrality speech to be arranged by a third party – FreedomWorks – and why he let no fewer than five other speakers get up in front of him and not say much except that his plan was great.
And two, it explains why Pai has started talking like the worst sort of partisan politician rather than the head of a federal regulator: mocking opponents, making wild and inaccurate claims that "play to the base," even asserting, laughably, that the only reason the Title II classification was imposed in the first place was because of partisan politics.
"Days after a disappointing 2014 midterm election," Pai said, "and in order to energize a dispirited base, the White House released an extraordinary YouTube video instructing the FCC to implement Title II regulations. This was a transparent attempt to compromise the agency's independence. And it worked."
The words should have stuck in his throat. But Pai can only see his shining future ahead of him. In the Court of King Donald, that means having to copy the leader and follow the court intrigue.
Was it merely a coincidence that days after Matt Drudge – a man who runs a poorly designed right-wing link farm – appeared with Trump in the White House, Pai inserts mention of him in his speech, even though it had literally nothing to do with what he was talking about? No, it was not.
And you can expect to see a lot more of it from Pai. A lot more of Pai the Dick, instead of Pai the Policywonk. We'd love to think that this behavior will revert once Pai is confirmed and in place for another five years – but the reality is that it won't.
We now have the Telco Trump in place at the FCC and, like with the president, we will all just have to hope that not too much damage is caused by their failure to consider others, and their failure to do the right thing rather than the most popular thing among their core supporters. ®