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Ajit Pai Starts To Roll Back Latest Internet Regulations From Obama's Team


The future of the internet and telecommunications is now in new hands. In his first two weeks, the newly appointed Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai has started to undo some of the actions of his Democratic predecessor. Ajit Pai is widely known as a skeptic of heavy government regulation. Consumer advocacy groups warn that with Pai now at the helm of the FCC, the internet, they say, will likely be less competitive and less accessible. To help us understand what to expect from the new FCC, we are joined now by All Tech Considered's Alina Selyukh. Alina, Hi.


SINGH: So the big debate over Ajit Pai's new role at the FCC is what that might mean for the internet as we know it. So help us understand what is at stake?

SELYUKH: Well, sure - and this gets at the issue - and I'm going to say this term, net neutrality. This is where everybody starts snoozing, but let me lay it out. So there's the guidelines that, say, internet service providers shouldn't block or throttle anything on the web, and they can't really give special treatment to companies that pay extra. And this has been the bureaucratic back and forth for many years.

In 2015, the Obama administration set net neutrality principles into law by reclassifying internet service providers in a way that treats them more like utilities, the really stringent restrictions on the industry. Well, now we've got a new administration coming in that's taking sort of an 180-degree look at all regulations. And Pai has even said that now is the time to, quote, "fire up the weed whacker" and remove those unnecessary rules from the books.

SINGH: Alina, I think the immediate question is what does that mean for people like you and me, for consumers and their internet access?

SELYUKH: Well, sure. What we are expecting from Pai is to work with Congress to set new rules that could mean that the FCC loses some of the oversight power over the internet service providers.

SINGH: All this sounds like a major shift in how the U.S. government actually treats cable and telecom companies.

SELYUKH: Pai definitely has a very different view of the government's role. For instance, when the Obama administration would set regulations and they would be lauded as consumer protections, Pai would come out and say, well, did you really show evidence that people were actually being harmed without these regulations in place? He would advocate for companies to come together and solve various problems, rather than the government coming in and sorting it out.

SINGH: So we know a little more about Ajit Pai now and where he's going - or at least what he's signaling. Tell me a little more about Ajit Pai the person.

SELYUKH: So he comes from Kansas. He's a son of Indian immigrants. He is a career lawyer. He's worked at the Department of Justice in the Senate. He worked for Verizon for a short period of time, and he has been on the FCC for the past four years.

He's the guy who lightens it up with pop culture references. It's kind of funny. You'll be reading his opinions, and, like, in the footnotes, he will be citing "Seinfeld" or "The Big Lebowski." At one point, he started his address with the part 15 notice of proposed rule-making reminds me of a scene from the 2003 movie "The Matrix Reloaded" and then he proceeded to describe the scene.

SINGH: Dear goodness (laughter).

SELYUKH: So we might be in for some really colorful chairman's opinions in the next four years.

SINGH: OK. Alina Selyukh is a reporter for NPR's All Tech Considered. Thank you for joining us, Alina.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.
Lakshmi Singh is a midday newscaster and a guest host for NPR, which she joined in 2000.