Pai is the first ever Indian American to head the Federal Communications Commission.
Ajit Varadaraj Pai, the first ever Indian American to lead the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was conferred with the inaugural Zee Entertainment National Leadership Award at a special event on Capitol Hill.
The 44-year-old Republican attorney was appointed to the top spot in the independent US government agency by President Donald Trump and took charge in January 2017. As chairman, he oversees interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable — an apt position for a telecom law expert.
Pai comes across as very affable, conscious of his humble beginnings, and deeply appreciative of his meteoric rise to the top of a key federal agency.
Addressing a distinguished gathering of US lawmakers, industry leaders, press and media persons on a hot afternoon typical of July, he recalled growing up in the late seventies and early eighties in a small town in Kansas where he never saw anyone who looked like him in the public square. Pai is the son of Indian immigrants who came to the US to work as doctors in rural Kansas.
“I would have never believed that a shy, small town boy would be recognized by one of the premier companies in the world, be interviewed by the first Indian American crowned Miss America (Nina Davuluri), be alongside all these Congressmen on both sides of the aisle,” he said, at the Zee Entertainment award ceremony held in the Rayburn House Office Building.
“It is not about my credentials. This is an amazing country. Only in America would people like us have a chance to succeed in all these different fields,” he added.
Interestingly, Pai was appointed as a Commissioner at the FCC by former President Barack Obama, in May 2012, at the recommendation of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He was confirmed unanimously by the Senate and sworn in for a five-year term. President Trump elevated him to head the agency and in March re-nominated him to serve a second five-year term.
Like Trump, Pai is a fierce and vocal critic of regulations adopted by the previous Democratic administration. As head of the FCC, he wants to scrap the 2015 net neutrality rules which essentially create a level playing field for all Internet users.
Net neutrality has been described as the first amendment of the internet whereby internet service providers treat everyone’s data equally.
Consumers and companies alike support an open internet, fearing that deregulation will allow telecom and cable giants to control the flow of content and enable them to charge more for faster access. The controversial and complex issue was back in the headlines as July 12 was designated a ‘Day of Action’ in support of protecting net neutrality and treating all web traffic equally.
At the Capitol Hill event, there was no talk of net neutrality, deregulation or any policy matters.
Pai recalled how a few years ago, he had the privilege of sitting down one-on-one with media magnate Dr. Subhash Chandra, Chairman of the Essel Group which runs Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL). “I came to understand what an incredible accomplishment it was for him to create the company”, he told the gathering, given the challenging marketplace and the hostility of the incumbent government. “Nonetheless, he persisted and created something that didn’t exist before – an entertainment platform that has now entertained billions of people around the world, including my own parents who 20 years ago were startled to see that they can now finally watch Bollywood movies in the United States,” Pai said.
The honoree commended the Zee group for branching out, “focusing on healthy living and making the world a better place. Obviously, this might be good business, but it is also just a good way to help the community,” he said, adding, “It is good to see so many members of the Indian diaspora here.”
Amit Goenka, CEO of International Broadcast Business, at ZEEL, stated, “We have instituted the Zee Entertainment Leadership Awards to honor individuals and institutions that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the media and entertainment sector. The selection of our inaugural honoree was not difficult,” he said about Pai, noting that he “has demonstrated a great commitment to promoting and protecting consumer access to reliable, actionable information particularly in the areas of healthy living, wellness, news and entertainment.”
Pai is an Indian American trailblazer. He is a Washington insider who has spent almost two decades in public service with the Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, and the FCC.
He has a BA in social studies from Harvard University and a law degree (JD) from the University of Chicago.
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