Analysis Ajit Pai has left his position as head of the FCC – America's communications regulator – marking the end of an extraordinary four years where telecoms policy was dragged into the era of alternate facts. With sad inevitability, Pai has a list of his accomplishments in a similar fashion.
Just as he had done during his tenure, however, Pai has mirrored the 45th president’s approach and, rather than give an overview of actions to show a coherent drive and philosophy, has created the longest list possible. Bigger is better.
And so we have a 19-page document with 134 bullet points, many with sub-points. The end result is a mixture of tedium and propaganda with seemingly every program the FCC runs religiously inscribed, and the most controversial decisions whitewashed with tangential facts or ideological zeal.
As just one example, Pai’s unforgivably weak response to a devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico – something that mirrored President Trump’s own bizarre response that many have attributed to racism – is ignored. Instead the list heralds how the FCC awarded the island $127m “to expand, improve, and harden broadband networks,” and notes how Pai visited the island not once, but twice.
Pai fails to note the extensive, and justified, criticism leveled at him by his own commissioners, the Government Accountability Office, the press, and Puerto Ricans for doing too little, too late. He also refused a review into the FCC’s response: something that is a standard approach used to help the organization learn from mistakes.
Had it been run, the review might have queried why normal protocols weren’t followed. The fact he prevented such a probe reveals a darker truth: that Pai’s actions, or lack of them, were not the result of incompetence.
Pai will, of course, be most closely associated with the reversal of net neutrality rules. Not only did he undercut the FCC’s own rulings made just two years earlier but he pushed through a predetermined outcome, often with almost comic pretense to running a proper policy process.
The FCC not only failed to fix its flawed public comment process and systems but worked to make it more dysfunctional in order to disguise the true depth of feeling against the decision. It allowed organizations to upload hundreds of thousands of responses in one file, knowing from experience that it would be used to flood the comment period with fake comments. The cable industry promptly did exactly that. Later, Pai claimed, wrongly, that the FCC had been hit with a DDoS attack.
Pai also actively muddied the policy waters to disguise the fact that the only group that approved of reversing net neutrality protections were the cable giants that stood to gain most from it, along with the various think-tanks and lawmakers that the industry heavily supports.
So bye-bye, Mr Ajit Pai. You drove our policy into the levee and we still wonder why