FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Monday said he plans to leave the FCC on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021. Stepping down when a new president is installed is an agency tradition. In a statement, he called being the first Asian-American to chair the agency “a particular privilege. As I often say: only in America.”
The Chairman listed accomplishments with his colleagues from his time at the helm of the Commission: “Together, we’ve delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety. And this FCC has not shied away from making tough choices. As a result, our nation’s communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before.”
The native Kansan said he’s proud of making the Commission’s processes more transparent. His agency made public drafts of the proposals and orders slated for a vote three weeks before the agency’s monthly meetings. Previously, draft items were released closer to the vote.
Among other things, industry will remember Pai’s FCC for making it easier to deploy 5G wireless infrastructure. Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein told Inside Towers: “Chairman Pai’s unwavering leadership in promoting wireless infrastructure deployment made a huge difference at the critical time we needed to keep the nation connected.” Adelstein added, “Chairman Pai has achieved major milestones for wireless infrastructure deployment, including the recent 5G Upgrade Order and compound expansion. He set the FCC on the path to steer the country to connectivity by expediting wireless infrastructure deployment, ensuring public safety, and promoting U.S. competitiveness in the race to 5G.”
The tower industry also appreciated changes to agency regulations to enable easier tower upgrades. In a statement to Inside Towers, NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association President/CEO Todd Schlekeway said: “During his tenure, Chairman Pai played a leading role shaping policies that led to a successful broadcast repack transition, a streamlined regulatory environment surrounding the deployment of 5G technologies, unleashing access to spectrum bands critical to next generation networks and helping close the digital divide by expanding broadband connectivity to rural, unserved and underserved areas of the country.” These actions, said Schlekeway, “will directly benefit the entire country as well as NATE member companies working on the front lines of deployment for years to come.”
Schlekeway said Pai helped to “shine a spotlight on the prominent role that the tower technician workforce plays to enable a connected society. For example, in 2018, Chairman Pai participated in a tower climb at a site in Colorado with numerous NATE member companies in order to experience first-hand the safe work practices, diverse skill sets, knowledge base and work-ethic that are required of today’s tower technicians to conduct safe and successful wireless deployments. It was this type of proactive, roll-up-your sleeves leadership which was a hallmark of Chairman Pai’s tenure.”
Pai was recently voted to be the recipient of the NATE 2020 Regulatory Champion of the Year Award and the association plans to formally recognize him with this honor in the coming weeks, according to the association executive.
Pai came to the FCC in 2007, as a staff attorney in the Office of General Counsel. President Obama appointed Pai to fill one of the Republican-controlled seats on the Commission in 2012. In 2017, President Donald Trump chose Pai to lead the agency.
Pai’s planned exit enables President-elect Joe Biden to name a new head of the FCC. Democratic experts have speculated former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and current senior Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel lead the short list, Inside Towers reported.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief