Have you ever wondered what Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai was doing in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the net neutrality repeal? We have, so we decided to find out.
Motherboard has obtained Pai’s official calendar for the last six months of 2017 via a Freedom of Information Request. While these official schedules don’t capture everything, it gives a glimpse at how Pai was spending his work days and who he was talking to in the months leading up to the net neutrality repeal.
Official calendars of government bureaucrats are kind of like indices. They give you a general outline of what filled the person’s time, but no details about what was said or done at the meetings, which is why Motherboard has already filed several more requests to get details on specific meetings that took place over the latter half of 2017.
It’s also important to keep in mind that calendars can be carefully managed in case they’re ever made public. There are lots of empty spaces in Pai’s schedule when, I assume, he was doing something, and there’s a lack of any chunks of time devoted to policy development. And lest we forget that not so long ago Pai refused to hand over his calendar and emails to congressional investigators looking into how the FCC developed its net neutrality rules.
As expected, Pai’s calendar divides his time between meeting with his team and other government staff, taking calls from politicians, doing media interviews, and meeting with industry leaders and lobbyists. Though Pai took meetings and calls with small, community-based telecom companies, Big Telecom was able to carve out a significant portion of the chair’s schedule. From July 1, 2017 through December 21, 2017, Pai met or spoke with high level executives from Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile three times each. He met with AT&T twice, and Charter twice as well. These included calls and meetings with:
- T-Mobile CEO John LeGere
- AT&T CEO John Donovan
- Craig Silliman, the executive vice president—public policy and general counsel at Verizon
- Hans Vestberg, Verizon's executive vice president and president of Global Networks and Chief Technology Officer
- Kathryn A. Zachem, Comcast’s executive Vice President, Regulatory and State Legislative Affairs
- Executive Vice President of Field Operations at Charter, Tom Adams
On one day in particular, August 28, Pai spent an entire afternoon taking back to back calls from high-level executives from AT&T, T-Mobile, Charter, Sprint, Verizon, and Comcast one after the other. FCC Chief of Staff Matthew Berry tweeted that all of those calls were about network restoration after Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall on August 25:
A few weeks later, while attending a conference hosted by the CTIA—a wireless telecom lobby group—Pai met in person with executives from Nokia, T-Mobile, Samsung, Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile’s parent company), and Sprint one after the other:
Of course, meeting with representatives from the telecom industry is part of Pai’s job, but his schedule definitely shows a preference for large corporations over consumer advocacy groups.
Another part of the Chair’s job is to consult with, meet with, and take calls from politicians. Over six months, Pai met or spoke with over three dozens politicians, the majority of whom were Republican (including a meeting with former President George W. Bush while visiting Texas). Only five Democratic politicians were listed on Pai’s official calendar. Again, not exactly shocking considering Pai was appointed by a Republican administration, but worth considering.
It’s also worth considering that the majority of trade groups, lobbyists, and think tanks Pai met or spoke with were right-leaning, such as the libertarian think tank the CATO Institute, and Phoenix Center, a think tank that grew out of AT&T’s former research division. His media interviews also favored more right-leaning outlets, though he also gave a fair amount of time to NPR, Bloomberg, and local affiliate channels when traveling. He also did one interview with VICE News.
Not all of Pai’s appointments included topics of discussion, but net neutrality came up frequently. Pai’s order to dismantle net neutrality rules was called “Restoring Internet Freedom,” and the acronym—RIF—was noted in several meetings and calls. One such meeting was with Amazon in early December. We don’t know what was said at that meeting, but publicly, the online giant has advocated to preserve net neutrality.
Oh, and this isn’t the most newsworthy tidbit, but I’m pretty sure I figured out when Ajit Pai filmed his infamous anti-net neutrality Harlem shake video: he had a filming commitment in the “green room” with regards to RIF on December 11.
Here’s the full calendar if you’d like to take a look. Feel free to contact us if anything on the calendar jumps out at you:
UPDATE: This story has been updated with tweets from FCC Chief of Staff Matthew Berry, who said some of Pai's calls to telecom CEOs were specifically about infrastructure restoration after Hurricane Harvey.
Correction: Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25, not August 17.