Ajit Pai announced Monday he would step down as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission as of inauguration day, Jan. 20. He leaves a complicated legacy with the FCC concerning cybersecurity, one that will almost certainly change under new leadership.
Pai has been chairman throughout the Trump administration and was a commissioner before that. By rule, the five commissioners of the FCC can only contain three members of a single political party, and Pai — a former lawyer for telecom companies — is a staunch free-market Republican who favored a “light-touch” approach to regulation. It was a philosophy that led the FCC to abdicate much of its regulatory standing in many cybersecurity and privacy roles. At the same time, his moves in 5G supply chain security were anything but a light touch, which will require well over a billion dollars in upgrades nationwide.
Most people who have heard of Pai know him as the official to scrap net neutrality. But that wasn’t his only controversial opinion. The Republican stance at the FCC was that the commission lacked statutory authority to affect cybersecurity. In that vein, Pai during his opening months as chair reversed an order to address known vulnerabilities in the emergency alert system and announced plans to reverse broadband privacy rules (before lawmakers made that moot). Both of those initiatives had been set up under previous chairman, Tom Wheeler.
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