Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai canceled a scheduled appearance at CES Wednesday evening — less than one week before the interview. During the event, Pai was supposed to be part of a panel alongside Maureen Ohlhausen, the Federal Trade Commission’s acting chairwomen, to be moderated by Consumer Technology Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro, in a so-called “candid conversation.” The session would have been Pai’s first appearance at CES as FCC chairman; CES 2018 will mark the first time he has missed the show in five years.
Almost no information has been given regarding why Pai canceled his appearance at the show, other than a cancellation email from the Consumer Technology Association noting that “we look forward to our next opportunity to host a technology policy discussion with him before a public audience.”
Reached for comment, Shapiro said Pai did not communicate his reason for canceling, but speculated that concern over violence over his rollback of pending net neutrality rules may have played a role.
“I attended his recent Media Institute speech and was moved greatly. He and his family have been subject to vicious and direct attacks and threats and any decision he makes regarding his own travel is fine with me,” Shapiro told Digital Trends. “I may not agree with him on every issue, but he is a brilliant and committed public servant.”
Pai has been no stranger to controversy over the past year. His name has become near-synonymous with the rollback of net neutrality protections of the internet, a decision that is unpopular among consumers because of the power it gives internet service providers to create so-called “internet fast lanes,” and paid prioritization among companies that can afford it. The audience at CES was likely strongly opposed to Pai’s rulings.
Shapiro said he wanted to spread the news of Pai’s cancellation as quickly as possible, given two recent cancellations by FCC chairs at CES. FCC Chairman Michael Powell flew to Las Vegas for CES but got sick while there and could not speak. For 2017 CES, then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler agreed to a one on one but withdrew a few weeks before CES.
The FCC, in general, is likely gearing up for a tumultuous 2018. After the commission voted in favor of repealing net neutrality, several companies, advocacy groups, and other organizations voiced intent to sue the FCC. The Commission is in the process of editing the final repeal order, and the wording of that repeal order could possibly end up helping Pai and the FCC combat those upcoming lawsuits. It is not unusual for orders such as this to be released weeks after a vote.
Despite the unpopularity of Pai’s stances, the session would have likely been well-attended. It’s unclear if the session will still go ahead without Pai, or if it will be canceled altogether.
Shapiro said he was optimistic about the future of net neutrality legislation, despite Pai’s recent rulings.
“As someone who lobbied the FCC hard over 15 years ago for the original net neutrality principles, I have watched the recent debates and the hyperbole and believe it unfortunate and beyond reason,” he told Digital Trends. “The Internet will be fine with the FCC action and I think if there is any wrong doing the FTC and Congress will correct it. I even see some hope that Congress will act as Democrats and Republicans basically agree on what is fair.”
Only time will tell.
The FCC did not immediately respond to requests for more information.