Ajit Varadaraj Pai

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This article is about the FCC Commissioner. For the cricketer, see Ajit Manohar Pai.
Ajit Varadaraj Pai
Adjit V. Pai headshot.jpg
32nd Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
Assumed office
January 23, 2017
President Donald Trump
Preceded by Tom Wheeler
Member of the Federal Communications Commission
Assumed office
May 14, 2012
President Barack Obama
Donald Trump
Personal details
Born (1973-01-10) January 10, 1973 (age 44)
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Janine Van Lancker
Children 2
Parents Radha and Varadaraj Pai
Residence Arlington, Virginia
Alma mater Harvard University (BA)
University of Chicago Law School (JD)
Profession Lawyer

Ajit Varadaraj Pai (born January 10, 1973) is the Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He has served on the FCC since being appointed by President Barack Obama in May 2012. In January 2017, President Donald Trump elevated Pai to Chairman of the agency.[3][4] He is the first Indian American to hold the office. He was initially nominated for a Republican Party position on the commission by President Barack Obama at the recommendation of Mitch McConnell. He was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate on May 7, 2012,[1] and was sworn in on May 14, 2012, for a five-year term.[5] In March 2017, President Donald Trump announced that he would renominate Pai to serve another five-year term at the FCC, which will require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.[6] Pai previously worked as a lawyer for the Department of Justice, the United States Senate, Verizon Communications, and the FCC's Office of General Counsel, before being named commissioner to the FCC in 2011.

Early life and education[edit]

The son of immigrants from India,[7] Pai was born on January 10, 1973 in Buffalo, New York. He grew up in rural Parsons, Kansas.[8] Both of his parents were doctors at the county hospital.[2][9]

Pai attended Harvard University where he participated in the Harvard Speech & Parliamentary Debate Society.[10] He earned a B.A. with honors in Social Studies from Harvard in 1994 and a J.D. from the University of Chicago in 1997, where he was an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review and won the Thomas J. Mulroy Prize.[11]


Following law school, Pai clerked for Martin Leach-Cross Feldman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.[1] After moving to Washington, DC in 1998, Pai worked for the United States Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division as an Honors Program trial attorney on the Telecommunications Task Force. There, he worked on proposed mergers and acquisitions and on novel requests for regulatory relief following the enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Pai left his Department of Justice post in February 2001 to serve as Associate General Counsel at Verizon Communications Inc., where he handled competition matters, regulatory issues, and counseling of business units on broadband initiatives.[1]

Pai left Verizon in April 2003 and was hired as Deputy Chief Counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts. He returned to the Department of Justice to serve as Senior Counsel in the Office of Legal Policy in May 2004. He held that position until February 2005, when he was hired as Chief Counsel to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights.

Between 2007 and 2011, Pai held several positions in the FCC's Office of General Counsel, serving most prominently as Deputy General Counsel. In this role, he had supervisory responsibility over several dozen lawyers in the Administrative Law Division and worked on a wide variety of regulatory and transactional matters involving the wireless, wireline, cable, Internet, media, and satellite industries.[1] In 2010, Pai was one of 55 individuals nationwide chosen for the 2011 Marshall Memorial Fellowship, a leadership development initiative of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.[1] Pai returned to the private sector in April 2011, working in the Washington, D.C. office of law firm Jenner & Block where he was a Partner in the Communications Practice.

In 2011, Pai was then nominated for a Republican Party position on the Federal Communications Commission by President Barack Obama at the recommendation of Minority leader Mitch McConnell. He was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate on May 7, 2012 and was sworn in on May 14, 2012 for a term that concluded on June 30, 2016.[1]

Policy positions[edit]

Pai has been an advocate for less regulation during his tenure on the FCC, emphasizing in testimony before Congress that "The Internet is the greatest example of free-market innovation in history."[12] In addition, Pai is seen as a closer ally to broadcasters than other members of the FCC.[13] In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on July 10, 2012, he warned about the dangers of regulatory uncertainty and the need for the FCC to keep pace with the dynamic communications sector.[14] Pai also asserted that by reforming the way the commission works, the agency can facilitate the provision of new and better services at lower prices for American consumers.[14]

Pai gave his first major speech since taking office on July 18, 2012 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There, he discussed how the FCC can help promote economic growth and enhance job creation in the information and communications technology field[15] by adhering to three basic principles: (1) the FCC should be as nimble as the industry it oversees; (2) the FCC should prioritize the removal of regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment; and (3) the FCC should accelerate its efforts to allocate additional spectrum for mobile broadband.[16] Specifically, he called for a reinvigoration of Section 7 of the Communications Act, which gives the commission a one-year deadline to review proposals for new technologies and services. He introduced the idea of creating an IP Transition Task Force to expedite the country’s transition to all-IP networks. He urged the commission to settle the nine-year-old contributions reform proceeding for the Universal Service Fund by the end of the year. Finally, he advocated for completing the rules for the AWS-4 spectrum band by September 2012 and conducting the broadcast spectrum incentive auctions by June 30, 2014.[16]

Pai wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in 2014 criticizing a proposed FCC study of the news-gathering practices of media organizations.[17][18] In another 2014 letter, Pai criticized Netflix, writing that their Open Connect caching tools effectively secure fast lanes for its traffic.[19]

As chairman, Pai "scrapped" a proposal to open the cable box market to tech companies such as Google and Amazon.[20]

Net neutrality in the United States[edit]

2014 E-Rate Modernization Workshop

Pai voted against the FCC's 2015 Open Internet Order, which served as the basis for net neutrality regulations.[21] He said in December 2016 that he believed net neutrality's days were "numbered,"[22] and was described by the New York Times as a stickler on conservative interpretations of telecommunications law and the limits of the F.C.C.’s authority. As chairman, he also closed an investigation into zero-rating practices by wireless providers T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon.[23]

First Amendment issues[edit]

Pai highlighted First Amendment issues on the commission, citing them as a significant reason for voting against net neutrality. He called the Open Internet Order's declaration that Internet service providers have no freedom of speech an attempt to weaken the "culture of the First Amendment,"[24] and said it was "conceivable" the agency would seek to regulate political speech offered by edge providers such as Fox News or the Drudge Report.[25]

Prison inmate telephone calling costs[edit]

Pai argued against[26] adoption of the FCC 2013 analysis[27] and proposed rulemaking regarding the high cost of inmate telephone calls, referred to as Inmate Calling Service (ICS) by the FCC. He submitted his written dissent in which he argued that the nature of the exclusive single carrier contract between private ICS providers and prison administrators, meant inmates cannot "count on market competition to keep prices for inmate calling services just and reasonable."[28](ICS has become a $1.2 billion telecommunications industry and the two largest providers in the United States were private equity-backed companies).[29][30]:23 Prior to the FCC’s imposition of rate caps on interstate prison and jail phone calls in February 2014, the largest ICS provider Global Tel-Link (GTL) - which has been profitably bought and sold by private equity firms such as American Securities and Veritas Capital - charged some of the highest rates in the US – up to $17.30 for a 15-minute call.[31] The 2013 FCC analysis,[27] described how, in some cases, long-distance calls are charged six times the rate on the outside.[26] Pai opposed the FCC imposition of "safe harbor" of 12 cents with a cap of 21 cents on private ICS providers like GTL and CenturyLink Public Communications, arguing instead for a "simple proposal to cap interstate rates, with one rate for jails and a lower rate for prisons" that are cost-based to protect providers and ensure "some return on investment."[28][32] In 2015, Pai again opposed rate caps on in-state inmate calls with families paying up to $54 a phone call.[33] He raised concerns about the increased use of contraband cell phones in prisons. In November 2016, the ICS provider won a halt to cap the rates. Ajit Pai criticized Democrats for appealing and the courts for intervening on ICS rate regulations. [34] Shortly after his January 23 confirmation as chairman, Pai withdrew support for the FCC case involving GTL and CenturyLink set for February 6, 2017 which had called for curbing phone call prices.[20][35]

Lifeline Program[edit]

In 2016, Pai called for an investigation of potential fraud among beneficiaries of the agency's Lifeline subsidy for telecommunication services, contending that "apparent duplicates" who had signed up for the program improperly received $476 million annually.[36] He rescinded permissions for nine broadband providers to participate in the program after becoming agency chairman, stating those providers had not followed FCC guidelines requiring them to coordinate with the National Tribal Telecommunications Association in order to participate in the Lifeline program, and arguing the rules had been improperly circumvented by the previous Democratic commission.[37]

Personal life[edit]

Pai lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and two children.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Commissioner Ajit Pai". FCC.gov. Retrieved 2013-12-30. 
  2. ^ a b c "Nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai to The Federal Communications Commission". Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. November 30, 2011. S. Hrg. 112-480. Retrieved 2013-12-30. 
  3. ^ "President Trump Designates Ajit Pai as Chairman of FCC". Jan 22, 2017. 
  4. ^ Devin Coldewey (January 23, 2017), Trump’s FCC Chairman pick Ajit Pai heralds a weaker, meeker Commission, retrieved February 5, 2017 
  5. ^ "Trump's FCC: Tom Wheeler to be replaced, set-top box reform could be dead". Nov 10, 2016. 
  6. ^ Johnson, Ted (March 7, 2017). "President Trump Renominates Ajit Pai for New FCC Term". Variety. Retrieved 8 March 2017. 
  7. ^ "Trump Taps Commissioner Ajit Pai to Head FCC". Fortune. Reuters. January 23, 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2017. 
  8. ^ Eggerton, John (September 10, 2012). "Minority report: in his first extensive interview as the FCC's new GOP commissioner, Ajit Pai explains why government should get out of the way of innovation" (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). Broadcasting & Cable. pp. 16+. Gale Document Number: GALE|A310650911. Retrieved 2013-12-30.  Biography in Context. (subscription required)
  9. ^ "Provider Search Results". Labette Health. Retrieved 2013-12-30. Pai, Radha, M.D. Anesthesiology ... Pai, V.S., M.D. Urology 
  10. ^ "Our Distinguished Alumni". Harvard Speech & Parliamentary Debate Society. Retrieved 2013-12-30. 
  11. ^ "Ajit Pai". Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-01-30. 
  12. ^ "Testimony of Ajit Pai Before House Energy & Commerce Committee, March 19, 2005" (PDF). 
  13. ^ Flint, Joe (May 5, 2014). "FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai seeks peace with broadcasters". Los Angeles Times. 
  14. ^ a b "Testimony of Commissioner Ajit Pai, Hearing on Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission" (PDF). Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Unlocking Investment and Innovation in the Digital Age:The Path to a 21st-Century FCC" (PDF). Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  16. ^ a b "New FCC member wants nimble agency". Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  17. ^ Farhi, Paul (February 20, 2014). "Proposed FCC study of news organizations sparks conservative outcry". Washington Post. 
  18. ^ "The FCC Wades into the Newsroom". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 3, 2014. 
  19. ^ Wilhelm, Alex (December 11, 2014). "Netflix Fires Back At FCC Commish Pai's Allegation That It Is Building Internet Fast Lanes For Its Own Content". TechCrunch. 
  20. ^ a b Cecilia Kang (February 5, 2017), Trump’s F.C.C. Quickly Targets Net Neutrality Rules, The New York Times, retrieved February 5, 2017 
  21. ^ Boliek, Brooks (February 19, 2015). "Net neutrality's chief critic". Politico. 
  22. ^ "FCC's Ajit Pai says net neutrality's "days are numbered" under Trump". Ars Technica. Retrieved January 31, 2017. 
  23. ^ FCC target net neurality
  24. ^ Takala, Rudy (March 14, 2016). "FCC commissioner: Something changing in America about the First Amendment". Washington Examiner. 
  25. ^ Takala, Rudy (February 16, 2016). "FCC commissioner: U.S. tradition of free expression slipping away". Washington Examiner. 
  26. ^ a b Mark Wigfield, ed. (August 9, 2013). "FCC Bars High Rates for Long Distance Phone Calls in Jails and Prisons Nationwide: Reforms Bring Relief to Millions of Families By Reducing the Cost of Interstate Long-Distance Calls" (PDF). Federal Communication Commission News. Retrieved February 5, 2017.  Acting Chairwoman Clyburn and Jessica RosenworcelAjit Pai dissented and issued statements about their dissent.
  27. ^ a b Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF), August 9, 2013, p. 131, retrieved February 5, 2017 
  28. ^ a b "Dissenting Statement of Commissioner Ajit Pai as Delivered at the August 9, 2013 Open Agenda Meeting" (PDF). FCC. August 9, 2013. p. 3. Retrieved February 5, 2017. 
  29. ^ Timothy Williams (March 30, 2015). "The High Cost of Calling the Imprisoned". The New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2016. 
  30. ^ Private Equity Firms Profit Handsomely from Prison Phone Services, Prison Legal News, February 15, 2012, retrieved February 5, 2017 
  31. ^ Ryan Dezember (April 17, 2014). "American Securities Puts Prison-Phone Operator GTL on Block". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 22, 2016. 
  32. ^ Sasso, Brendan (August 9, 2013). "FCC limits price of prison phone calls". The Hill. 
  33. ^ Fung, Brian (October 22, 2015). "Calling a prison inmate can cost $54 a pop. The FCC thinks that's way too high.". Washington Post. 
  34. ^ Jon Brodkin (November 4, 2016), Court blocks FCC attempt to cap prison phone rates: Rate caps of 13¢ to 31¢ per minute stayed pending court review, Ars Technica, retrieved February 5, 2017 
  35. ^ Jenna Ebersole (January 19, 2017), Inmate Call Case Stays On Track Amid Looming FCC Changes, Washington: Law360, retrieved February 5, 2017 
  36. ^ Takala, Rudy (2016-06-08). "Commissioner says fraud from Obamaphone program approaching $500 million". Washington Examiner. 
  37. ^ "Setting the Record Straight on the Digital Divide". February 7, 2017.