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Chairman Pai Symposium: Wrap-Up and Thoughts for the Future FCC

TOTM The next chair has an awfully big pair of shoes (or one oversized coffee mug) to fill. Chairman Pai established an important legacy of transparency and process improvement, as well as commitment to careful, economic analysis in the business of the agency.

One of the themes that has run throughout this symposium has been that, throughout his tenure as both a commissioner and as chairman, Ajit Pai has brought consistency and careful analysis to the Federal Communications Commission (McDowellWright). The reflections offered by the various authors in this symposium make one thing clear: the next administration would do well to learn from the considered, bipartisan, and transparent approach to policy that characterized Chairman Pai’s tenure at the FCC.

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities

The Ajit Pai FCC on Radio Spectrum Allocations

TOTM Disclosure: The one time I met Ajit Pai was when he presented a comment on my book, “The Political Spectrum,” at a Cato Institute forum . . .

Disclosure: The one time I met Ajit Pai was when he presented a comment on my book, “The Political Spectrum,” at a Cato Institute forum in 2018. He was gracious, thorough, and complimentary. He said that while he had enjoyed the volume, he hoped not to appear in upcoming editions. I took that to imply that he read the book as harshly critical of the Federal Communications Commission. Well, when merited, I concede. But it left me to wonder if he had followed my story to its end, as I document the success of reforms launched in recent decades and advocate their extension. Inclusion in a future edition might work out well for a chairman’s legacy. Or…

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities

Ajit Pai Brought the FCC’s Media Ownership Rules into the Modern Age

TOTM Pai’s tenure at the FCC was marked by an abiding appreciation for the importance of competition, both as a guiding principle for new regulations and as a touchstone to determine when to challenge existing ones. Perhaps his greatest contribution to bringing competition to the forefront of the FCC’s mandate came in his work on media modernization.

I’m delighted to add my comments to the chorus of voices honoring Ajit Pai’s remarkable tenure at the Federal Communications Commission. I’ve known Ajit longer than most. We were classmates in law school … let’s just say “many” years ago. Among the other symposium contributors I know of only one—fellow classmate, Tom Nachbar—who can make a similar claim. I wish I could say this gives me special insight into his motivations, his actions, and the significance of his accomplishments, but really it means only that I have endured his dad jokes and interminable pop-culture references longer than most.

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities

Chairman Pai’s Organizational Legacy

TOTM One significant aspect of Chairman Ajit Pai’s legacy is not a policy change, but an organizational one: establishment of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) Office . . .

One significant aspect of Chairman Ajit Pai’s legacy is not a policy change, but an organizational one: establishment of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA) in 2018.

Prior to OEA, most of the FCC’s economists were assigned to the various policy bureaus, such as Wireless, Wireline Competition, Public Safety, Media, and International. Each of these bureaus had its own chief economist, but the rank-and-file economists reported to the managers who ran the bureaus – usually attorneys who also developed policy and wrote regulations. In the words of former FCC Chief Economist Thomas Hazlett, the FCC had “no location anywhere in the organizational structure devoted primarily to economic analysis.”

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities

A Reflection on Commissioner Pai, Chairman Pai, and Public Service

TOTM Ajit Pai has been, in my view, the most successful, impactful minority commissioner in the history of the modern regulatory state. And it is that success that has led him to become the most successful and impactful chairman, too.

Much of this symposium celebrates Ajit’s contributions as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and his accomplishments and leadership in that role. And rightly so. But Commissioner Pai, not just Chairman Pai, should also be recognized.

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities

Chairman Pai’s Legacy of Transparency

TOTM For many, the chairmanship of Ajit Pai is notable for its many headline-grabbing substantive achievements, including the Restoring Internet Freedom order, 5G deployment, and rural . . .

For many, the chairmanship of Ajit Pai is notable for its many headline-grabbing substantive achievements, including the Restoring Internet Freedom order, 5G deployment, and rural buildout—many of which have been or will be discussed in this symposium. But that conversation is incomplete without also acknowledging Pai’s careful attention to the basic blocking and tackling of running a telecom agency. The last four years at the Federal Communications Commission were marked by small but significant improvements in how the commission functions, and few are more important than the chairman’s commitment to transparency.

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities

Pai’s Legacy of Progress in Closing the Rural Digital Divide

TOTM The technical and business challenges of connecting rural America are different. Rural America needs different things out of its infrastructure than urban America. And the attitudes of both users and those providing service are different here than they are in urban America. Aji Pai gets this.

I was having a conversation recently with a fellow denizen of rural America, discussing how to create opportunities for academics studying the digital divide to get on-the-ground experience with the realities of rural telecommunications. He recounted a story from a telecom policy event in Washington, D.C., from not long ago. The story featured a couple of well-known participants in federal telecom policy as they were talking about how to close the rural digital divide. The punchline of the story was loud speculation from someone in attendance that neither of these bloviating telecom experts had likely ever set foot in a rural town.

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Antitrust & Consumer Protection

Pai Dedicated His Tenure to Improving US Broadband

TOTM Ajit Pai came into the Federal Communications Commission chairmanship with a single priority: to improve the coverage, cost, and competitiveness of U.S. broadband for the . . .

Ajit Pai came into the Federal Communications Commission chairmanship with a single priority: to improve the coverage, cost, and competitiveness of U.S. broadband for the benefit of consumers. The 5G Fast Plan, the formation of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, the large spectrum auctions, and other broadband infrastructure initiatives over the past four years have resulted in accelerated buildouts and higher-quality services. Millions more Americans have gotten connected because of agency action and industry investment.

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities

The (Conventional) 5G Chairman

TOTM Chairman Ajit Pai prioritized making new spectrum available for 5G. To his credit, he succeeded. Over the course of four years, Chairman Pai made available . . .

Chairman Ajit Pai prioritized making new spectrum available for 5G. To his credit, he succeeded. Over the course of four years, Chairman Pai made available more high-band and mid-band spectrum, for licensed use and unlicensed use, than any other Federal Communications Commission chairman. He did so in the face of unprecedented opposition from other federal agencies, navigating the chaotic currents of the Trump administration with political acumen and courage. The Pai FCC will go down in history as the 5G FCC, and as the chairman who protected the primacy of FCC control over commercial spectrum policy.

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Telecommunications & Regulated Utilities