FCC Won’t Move Forward With Trump’s Section 230 Order, Ajit Pai Says

January 8, 2021 Updated: January 8, 2021

The outgoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday said his agency will not be working to fulfill President Donald Trump’s executive order about internet liability protections.

Pai, who is set to step down after Inauguration Day, said in October 2020 that the FCC would “move forward” on Trump’s executive order, which asked the agency to “clarify” Section 230, as part of the Trump administration’s effort to counter the alleged anti-conservative bias and censorship from social media giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

In a turnaround of his previous position, Pai told tech news site Protocol that there is not enough time left for any modification to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants immunity for online platform from content generated by third-party users.

“The status is that I do not intend to move forward with the notice of proposed rule-making at the FCC,” Pai said in the interview, which will be aired on C-SPAN over the weekend. “The reason is, in part, because given the results of the election, there’s simply not sufficient time to complete the administrative steps necessary in order to resolve the rule-making. Given that reality, I do not believe it’s appropriate to move forward.”

When asked about his own thought on Section 230, Pai said that there seems to be a bipartisan consensus that the rule needs revision, if not elimination, and should be left to the Congress to decide what should be done.

“Within Congress there appears to be a consensus also that it should be revised or reformed in some way,” he told Protocol. “Obviously in terms of changing the law, that’s a decision for lawmakers to consider, but I do think there are certain bipartisan consensus areas forming regarding how it should be revised.”

Pai, a Republican, was nominated to the FCC in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama at the recommendation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In 2017, he was appointed chairman by Trump to replace Tom Wheeler, who stepped down upon Trump’s inauguration.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years,” Pai said in a statement announcing his departure. “To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a particular privilege. As I often say: only in America.”

The Republican-led FCC is most notable for the elimination of net neutrality rules adopted under the Obama administration. In 2017, the agency voted to deregulate broadband companies like Comcast and Verizon, allowing them to block, slowdown, or charge consumers higher fees to access certain websites and online services, as long as they disclose information regarding their network management practices. In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules, which Trump described as “a great win for the future and speed of the internet.”

“This FCC has not shied away from making tough choices,” Pai wrote. “As a result, our nation’s communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before.”

Pai’s departure leaves the FCC with two Democrats, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, and two Republicans, Nathan Simington and Brendan Carr. The party that controls the Senate will be able to confirm a nominee to secure a majority on the commission.