On February 5, 2015, His Excellency Björn Lyrvall, Ambassador of Sweden to the United States graciously hosted the Institute for Education’s Media and Technology Roundtable (MTR) with Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Honorable Ajit Pai.
The dinner began with Ambassador Lyrvall welcoming Commissioner Pai and guests to the Swedish residency and inviting all to discuss the timely issue of net neutrality. Coach Kemper, IFE Founder and CEO, thanked Ambassador and Mrs. Lyrvall for their stewardship and for their positive contributions to the fabric of D.C and Mrs. Catherine Bohigian, Charter Communications, for her leadership in MTR. Bohigian introduced Commissioner Pai praising the business perspective that he brought to the FCC as a result of his extensive experience across a multitude of government branches and in the private sector.
Commissioner Pai spoke about how technology has revolutionized societies for the better. He attributed these societal changes to increasing computational power, the ability to use technology as a networking tool, and the innovative developments in the use of wireless spectrum. Society is better off today because technology has enabled consumer-driven experiences and businesses. For example, 3D printing has profoundly affected prosthetics now that suppliers can create products that are tailored to consumers in very specific and dramatic ways. Technology has also disrupted the publishing industry by enabling the creation of numerous news outlets thus allowing more people to be consumers and producers of the news. Lastly, ride sharing and online house- and apartment- renting companies have disrupted and facilitated travel for consumers. These changes mark the shift in the technology industry from a supply-side economy to a demand-side economy, an economy driven by individual consumers.
During dessert, the dinner took a lively turn as guests started a Q&A with Commissioner Pai and began actively discussing net neutrality. The focus was on what was best for consumers. Consumers want competition, better speeds, better prices and better broadband choices. Whether regulating broadband as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act is the most advantageous way to protect consumers and ensure innovation and investment were hotly debated. Some guests believed that consumers pay a set fee a month and for that fee, they want to be able to go where they want online. Internet users do not want to suppliers to determine what a fast lane or a slow lane is. On the other hand, the effect that regulating broadband as a public utility under Title II and the potential negative effects that would have on consumers, such as slower network speeds, less broadband deployment, lack of Internet service provider competition, and lack of innovation in the space was also discussed. Individual conversations spun off from the larger forum as coffee was served as guests delved further into these issues.
Guests in attendance included Chris Caine, Mercator XXI and IFE Steward; Marci Robinson, IFE Chairman of the Board of Stewards; David Fenstermaker, Raymond James; and Johanna Shelton, Google.
Contributed by IFE Fellow Kelsey Kemper Valentine
About our special guest: Commissioner Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai was nominated to the Federal Communications Commission by President Barack Obama and on May 7, 2012 was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate. On May 14, 2012, he was sworn in for a term that concludes on June 30, 2016.
Commissioner Pai’s focus is on creating a regulatory environment in which competition and innovation will flourish, thus benefitting American consumers. He believes that it is vital for the FCC to adopt policies that will give private firms the strongest incentive to raise and invest capital; to develop new products and services; to compete in established and new markets. Specifically, Commissioner Pai is working to remove uncertainty that can deter businesses and investors from taking risks, to revisit outdated regulations, and to set clear, modernized rules for the road. These steps will result in consumers enjoying better products at lower prices and the communications industry contributing to faster economic growth and more job creation.
Commissioner Pai also believes that the FCC must act with dispatch to reflect the pace of change in today’s marketplace. Faced with an industry as vibrant and dynamic as today’s communications sector, the Commission must be careful not to cling to twentieth-century approaches in addressing the technological landscape of the twenty-first century. Thus, for example, it is a priority of Commissioner Pai to increase promptly the availability of spectrum for high-value uses.
Commissioner Pai’s regulatory approach has been shaped by his decade and a half of experience in communications, law, and policy.
Between 2007 and 2011, Commissioner 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 for 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.
Commissioner Pai’s career outside of the FCC has spanned the private and public sectors. With respect to the private sector, Pai worked in the Washington, DC office of Jenner & Block LLP, where he was a Partner in the Communications Practice until being sworn in as a Commissioner. Years earlier, he served as Associate General Counsel at Verizon Communications Inc., where he handled competition matters, regulatory issues, and counseling of business units on broadband initiatives.
Commissioner Pai also has served in all three branches of the federal government. After moving to Washington, DC in 1998, his first post was with 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. He later returned to the Department of Justice to serve as Senior Counsel in the Office of Legal Policy. Pai has worked on Capitol Hill as well, first as Deputy Chief Counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, and later as Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Property Rights. Immediately following law school, he clerked for the Honorable Martin L.C. Feldman of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Commissioner Pai received a B.A. with honors from Harvard University 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. 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.
The son of immigrants from India, Commissioner Pai grew up in Parsons, Kansas. He now lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife, Janine, son, Alexander and daughter, Annabelle.
Click here to read more online.Commissioner Ajit Pai bio