Ajit Pai

Ajit Pai said Monday he will follow what has become a Washington tradition when a new President is sworn-in and vacate the chairmanship of the Federal Communications Commission on Jan. 20. In a statement he called his time at the agency “the honor of a lifetime” and noted that on his watch the Commission adopted more than 25 proposals updating media regulations. Among the other accomplishments he cited was the opening of the C-band for new mobile broadband services, and the designation of 988 as the three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as well as making “tough choices” to close the digital divide while at the same focusing on promoting innovation and competition.

“I am proud of how productive this Commission has been,” said Pai. “I’m also proud of the reforms we have instituted to make the agency more accountable to the American people. In particular, for the first time ever, we’ve made public drafts of the proposals and orders slated for a vote three weeks before the agency’s monthly meetings, making this the most transparent FCC in history.”

Pai, 47, joined the FCC in 2007 as a staff attorney in the Office of General Counsel. In 2012, Pai was nominated by President Obama to fill one of the Republican-controlled seats on the Commission. Then in 2017, when President Trump was elected, he turned to the senior GOP commissioner to take over the agency.

“To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a particular privilege. As I often say: only in America,” said Pai, the son of Indian immigrants. His current term was set to expire in June 2021.

The National Association of Broadcasters says Pai always had “an open door” to hear from local radio and TV stations. “Chairman Pai has been a champion of free and local broadcasting since he joined the FCC. His fair, thoughtful approach to regulation led to many common-sense reforms that were long overdue,” said NAB President Gordon Smith. “Most notably, Chairman Pai modernized the Commission’s media ownership rules, authorized and promoted the transition to the Next Gen TV transmission standard, helped revitalize the AM radio band and cleared out some significant regulatory underbrush that was no longer in the public interest.”

Pai’s departure will allow President-elect Joe Biden to name a new head of the FCC with speculation already focused on former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and current Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as potential successors.

In a statement Monday, Rosenworcel acknowledged she sees things differently than Pai. “While we did not always agree on policy matters, I always valued our shared commitment to public service. Serving the American people is a tremendous honor and I wish him the best in the future,” Rosenworcel said.

Pai is not the only Republican leaving the FCC. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly will also depart at year-end when his term expires. He congratulated Pai on a “distinguished run” as the head of the FCC. “His Commission ushered in many policy advancements and made strides updating communications regulations, from restoring the Commission’s successful light-touch regulatory framework for internet service providers to modernizing media rules,” said O’Rielly.