With FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stepping down today, Politico is now reporting that newly sworn in President Donald Trump will appoint Commissioner Ajit Pai to lead the agency, citing "two industry sources familiar with the decision."
If Pai does become Chairman, he will preside -- at least initially -- over a very lean slate of commissioners including fellow Republican Michael O'Rielly and Democrat Mignon Clyburn. Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel failed to gain re-confirmation at the end of last year, but was re-nominated by President Barack Obama earlier this month. There is no word yet on who Trump plans to back for the open Commission seats. Under Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, the agency will maintain three commissioners affiliated with the political party in power and two commissioners from the minority party.
News reports have linked Pai as a potential candidate for FCC Chairman for many months, but some observers have also predicted that Trump could opt for an outsider for the position instead. Pai has served as a commissioner since his confirmation in 2012. He will need to be reconfirmed before the end of the year in order to stay at the FCC, but could take on the duties of Chairman immediately.
The future of the FCC remains unclear under a Trump administration. Multichannel News reported last week that the new president is planning to remake the agency and remove certain functions that are considered duplicative to those governed by the Federal Trade Commission .
Certainly one of the top priorities for the Republican-controlled FCC is to attempt a roll-back of the Open Internet Order, which was instituted two years ago. At the time of the ruling, Commissioners Pai and O'Rielly both expressed outrage that the FCC would have the ability to regulate broadband pricing through its classification of Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Chairman Wheeler emphasized that the FCC had no plans to regulate rates, but Pai colorfully called those assurances "fig leaf forbearance." (See FCC Vote Shows Net Neutrality Strains.)
UPDATE: As of Monday, January 23, the FCC is confirming Ajit Pai's appointment as new FCC Chairman.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading