Ajit Pai

President Donald Trump has named Ajit Pai as the new FCC chairman. Pai was already the senior Republican member of the FCC board. He's known for his free market beliefs, which is bad news for fans of net neutrality.

The news was broken by Politico and later confirmed by other major outlets.

By law, the FCC always includes both Republicans and Democrats, but the president's party gets to hold the majority (for more on how the FCC works, check out our primer on the organization). The result is a promotion for Pai and the end of the Obama-era (Democrat-majority) FCC leadership, which Tom Wheeler led as chairman.

Pai's free market ideals mean that he's far less likely than Wheeler to want to regulate telecoms. That's a problem for net neutrality advocates, because net neutrality relies on regulation. Absent regulation, companies are free to “zero-rate” certain types of data and take other actions that Wheeler's FCC might have considered anticompetitive or anti-consumer, and therefore worthy of regulation.

Wheeler's attacks on zero-rating schemes are especially vulnerable. Those actions were taken in the lame duck period and will be easy for Pai's FCC to walk back.

Pai doesn't need to be confirmed, because he already was – back in 2012, when President Barack Obama appointed him (remember, the President has to include the opposition in FCC leadership). So his promotion only took a signature from President Trump, which he got on Friday.