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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ajit Pai will leave his post as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Jan. 20, the agency said today.

Why it matters: Pai's Inauguration Day departure is in keeping with agency tradition, and could set up the Biden administration with a 2-1 Democratic majority at the FCC if the Senate fails to confirm another Trump nominee during the lame-duck period.

The big picture: Pai, a Republican tapped by President Trump to be chairman after serving as a commissioner, led a deregulatory charge in the telecom sector.

  • Pai repealed Obama-era net neutrality rules and sought to loosen restrictions on broadcast station group ownership.
  • He also oversaw consolidation in the wireless market through approval of the T-Mobile-Sprint merger, but blocked conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group from buying Tribune media.

What they're saying: Pai has championed extending broadband access to rural America through subsidies to help providers build out their networks, as well as ensuring that wireless companies have access to airwaves for 5G services.

  • "Together, we’ve delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety," Pai said in a statement.  "And this FCC has not shied away from making tough choices."

Go deeper

5G rollout advances despite pandemic, but hazards loom

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Coronavirus-related economic disruption and uncertainty could yet slow the pace of 5G deployment in the U.S. — but for now, the major carriers say they're moving full speed ahead.

Why it matters: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of connectivity as businesses shift to remote work and schools move classes online, making network performance more vital than ever.

Team Trump's 5G misfires

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios


The Trump administration, eager to win the 5G race and outflank China's Huawei, has run one plan after another up the flagpole — but found it hard to keep any of them flying.

Driving the news: White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow aired a new approach Tuesday to speed the emergence of U.S.-led alternatives to Huawei. Attorney General William Barr dismissed the same idea Thursday as "pie in the sky."

FAA clears more planes after 5G fears

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday it had approved nearly 80% of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports with new 5G services after fears of signal interference limited 5G rollout.

Why it matters: The FAA approvals will help provide more certainty after the agency raised fears that 5G signals could reduce the accuracy of certain equipment, known as radio altimeters, that helps planes land and take off in inclement weather.

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