Matt helps shape our policy team’s efforts to protect the open internet, prevent media concentration, promote affordable broadband deployment and safeguard press freedom. He’s served as an expert witness before Congress on multiple occasions. Before joining Free Press, he worked at the public interest law firm Media Access Project and in the communications practice groups of two private law firms in Washington, D.C. Before that, he served as editor-in-chief for the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, worked for PBS, and spent time at several professional and college radio and television stations. Matt earned his B.A. in film studies from Columbia University and his J.D. from Harvard Law School. Matt likes watching sports, riding his bicycle and talking about philosophy — just not all at the same time.
WASHINGTON — On Monday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced he would step down as chairman and leave the agency altogether on Jan. 20, 2021.
While it’s customary for FCC chairs to step down when a president from a different party is elected, Pai’s statement made no mention of the Biden-Harris transition or the pending administration change.
President Trump tapped Pai to lead the agency in 2017, elevating him from the commissioner seat he’d held since 2012.
Free Press Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood made the following statement:
“Ajit Pai has always been his own biggest fan, and his own cheering section, treating his important position at the FCC as little more than a pulpit to praise his own alleged accomplishments. But as Free Press has demonstrated countless times over the past four years, Pai tries to take credit for improvements that had nothing to do with him or that were never real to begin with.
“The entire premise of Pai’s failed chairmanship is a lie: He claims that his radical deregulatory agenda spurred broadband improvements and closed the digital divide. None of these claims are remotely true.
“While Pai hangs out the ‘mission accomplished’ banner, the stark reality is that nearly 80 million people in America still lack adequate broadband at home, with Black, Brown and Indigenous people disproportionately disconnected. That gaping digital divide remains, and Pai’s done nothing to close it — even during the ongoing pandemic that’s made essential internet connections that much more vital.
“While broadband speeds and coverage ticked up during Pai’s time, he had nothing to do with those improvements. In fact, these changes occurred thanks to buildout plans that ISPs made during the Obama administration. Ninety-two percent of Pai-era fiber deployments came from projects announced during 2015–2016. And AT&T’s DIRECTV merger-buildout commitment — which Pai opposed — accounted for two-thirds of all new household-fiber deployments during his tenure. Pai even missed a massive overreporting error that Free Press caught in 2019, showing that much of the modest gain in broadband coverage he boasted about was based on data his agency knew to be flawed.
“The broadband-speed increases Pai foolishly touts, based on cherry-picked data, are also smaller than speed increases seen during the Obama administration — and, once again, have nothing to do with Pai’s actions. Broadband speeds rise as technologies evolve — and these increases arose from deployment plans and paths put in place long before Pai took over the FCC.
“While Pai and his enablers in Congress bleat incessantly about broadband investment, the simple truth is that ISPs’ aggregate investment and capital expenditures have continued to decline ever since Pai abandoned the proper Title II framework for broadband-internet-access service.
“Tossing out the FCC’s authority to promote universally affordable broadband choices didn’t supercharge ISP investments, as Pai promised it would. Instead, companies like AT&T and Comcast pocketed massive Trump tax cuts, slashed jobs and ramped down spending to put more money in shareholders’ hands and less into building better networks. And broadband prices are once again on the rise, contrary to Pai’s claims, thanks to terrible decisions like his approval of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger.
“This litany of failures on broadband investment, deployment and affordability is no surprise, considering that Pai opened his run as chairman by attacking the FCC’s Lifeline program. He stripped innovative providers’ ability to participate at all, and eventually revealed that he’d sacrifice Lifeline’s ability to fund any broadband subsidies for low-income people if he had to choose between the program and his own agenda.
“Pai always soldiered ahead on the basis of ideology and little more, repealing the agency’s successful Net Neutrality rules despite overwhelming public opposition and indications of massive fraud by ISPs and others submitting millions of fake comments at the FCC. But rather than own up to these mistakes, Pai lied to Congress, pretending that a denial-of-service attack was to blame when it was the FCC’s own failure to handle incoming comments from people opposed to Pai’s disastrous plan.
“Broadcast lobbyists likewise benefited from Pai’s destructive tendencies. In the earliest days of his chairmanship, Pai tossed out long-standing local broadcast-ownership limits, only to lose in court when judges castigated the agency’s repeated failure to account for the impact of its decisions on TV- and radio-ownership opportunities for people of color and women. Rather than fix those errors, Pai’s FCC took the case to the Supreme Court and will argue it there on the last full day of the Trump administration.
“And in recent months Pai has proven all too willing to consider the outgoing president’s request for the FCC to regulate social-media companies and speech under Section 230. After years of professing supposed regulatory humility, opposing what he called internet regulation and pretending to uphold First Amendment values when it was convenient for him, Pai signaled his eagerness to crack down on Twitter and other companies for exercising their rights to fact check Trump’s disinformation.
“There’s little positive to say about four years of wasted opportunities and bluster from this failed chairman. But saying good riddance today is an opportunity to turn the page and get back to the serious work the FCC ignored while Pai ran it.”