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Senate Confirms Ajit Pai as Commissioner of FCC

Ajit Pai.
  • India

    Ending a long stalemate orchestrated by Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the U.S. Senate May 7 unanimously approved the nominations of Indian American Ajit Varadaraj Pai, a Republican, and Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, to fill two vacant seats on the Federal Communication Commission’s five-member board.

    Both are former Senate and FCC staffers who were enthusiastically received and approved in confirmation hearings by the Senate Commerce Committee.

    Grassley stalled a full vote in the Senate for months because he was nettled that the FCC would not give him documents related to wireless firm LightSquared, headed by chief executive Sanjiv Ahuja (I-W, Nov. 11, 2011). 

    The Reston, Va.-based start-up, backed by investor and Democratic Party donor Philip Falcone, had planned to build a national wireless Internet network using satellite airwaves it had acquired. The plans were tabled after the FCC concluded earlier this year that LightSquared’s network would interfere with GPS devices. 

    Grassley had demanded that he be given information about the initial go-ahead to LightSquared’s wireless venture.

    The FCC refused to give Grassley the documents because he is not a member on the committee with jurisdiction over the FCC.

    The Wall Street Journal reported that while the FCC has still not provided all the LightSquared documents to Grassley, the agency did hand over thousands of pages to House Republicans, including Grassley’s office, as part of a compromise.

    Grassley then lifted his hold on the two nominees, clearing the way for the full vote by the Senate.

    Pai, 39, fills a seat left open by Meredith Attwell Baker, who left the FCC to become NBC’s main lobbyist just a few months after the FCC approved Comcast Corp.’s acquisition of a majority stake in NBCUniversal from General Electric Co.

    Pai told India-West reporter Sunita Sohrabji last November that he was grateful to President Barack Obama for nominating him.

    “If I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed, I will do my best to serve my country well. I just really love the telecom industry, which cuts across so many sectors,” he said, adding that the FCC “must facilitate innovation, but abide by regulations.”

    Pai was most recently a partner in the litigation department of the law firm of Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C. He also served as deputy general counsel at the FCC from 2007-2011.

    Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Pai grew up in Kansas. He is the son of two doctors, Varadaraj Pai, a urologist from Secunderabad, and Radha Pai, an anesthesiologist from Bangalore.

    Married to Janine Ann Van Lancker, an assistant professor of medicine at George Washington University, Pai has a sister, Sheila, a teacher in Philadelphia.

    He has a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Harvard and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, where he edited the Law Review.

    Pai began his career as a trial attorney attached to the telecommunications task force in the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust unit. He then joined the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he initially served as deputy chief counsel to the subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, and later became chief counsel to the subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights.

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