News of Republican Ajit Pai's elevation to chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has alarmed many consumer advocates.
Pai not only voted against the recent net neutrality rules, but has made clear that he intends to scrap them. He also opposes a host of other rules, including new broadband privacy regulations that prohibit carriers from drawing on people's Web-surfing data for ad targeting without their explicit consent.
"Ajit Pai has been on the wrong side of just about every major issue that has come before the FCC during his tenure," Craig Aaron, CEO of Free Press, stated in response to reports about Pai's new role. "He’s never met a mega-merger he didn’t like or a public safeguard he didn’t try to undermine."
News of Pai's new role also spurred Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to declare on Friday that the FCC should protect consumers and promote competition. “I will vigorously oppose any efforts by leadership at the FCC to undo net neutrality and broadband privacy rules ... or roll back any fundamental consumer protections," he stated.
But not everyone opposes Pai's elevation. Among his supporters is the trade group News Media Alliance, which today praised Pai as "an avid supporter of the news media industry."
In 2014, the News Media Alliance, then called the Newspaper Association of America, supported proposed net neutrality rules that would have prohibited broadband providers from blocking or degrading material. The FCC ultimately went further by reclassifying broadband as a utility and imposing common carrier rules that prohibit ISPs from blocking or throttling content, and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery. (The newspaper organization has never taken a position on the FCC's decision to subject broadband carriers to common carrier regulations.)
Despite its endorsement of net neutrality principles, the News Media Alliance is heartened by news of Pai's appointment because of his views on media cross-ownership.
Specifically, Pai recently dissented from a decision to preserve rules that prevent companies from owning newspapers and broadcast stations in the same market. "Had the prohibition on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership been eliminated years ago, the industry’s prospects might look brighter today," Pai said last year. "Investments in newsgathering are more likely to be profitable when a company can distribute news over multiple platforms. And cross-owned television stations on average provide their viewers with more news than do other stations."
The News Media Alliance currently is suing to overturn the FCC's ban on media cross-ownership.