The FCC boss, who led the push to kill net neutrality, just cancelled plans to speak at the biggest tech conference of the year

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

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Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • FCC chairman Ajit Pai has pulled out of tech conference CES less than a week before he was due to appear.
  • Commentators are speculating that it’s due to an expected hostile reception over the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality.

Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman who spearheaded a controversial effort to repeal open internet laws in the US, has cancelled plans to attend major tech industry conference CES at the last minute.

Pai’s appearance at CES was announced in November 2017. He was scheduled to take part in a “candid discussion on connectivity, spectrum issues, Next Gen TV, developments in broadband and competition policy, and a recap of the chairman’s impactful first year.”

Pai has attended CES in Las Vegas for the last five years, and this would have been his first appearance as chairman of the FCC – but he has now pulled out with less than a week to go.

In a statement, Gary Shapiro, CEO of CES’s parent company, said: “Unfortunately Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is unable to attend CES 2018. We look forward to our next opportunity to host a technology policy discussion with him before a public audience.”

The cancellation comes hot in the heels of the regulator’s repeal of net neutrality in the US in December 2017 – prompting speculation that Pai would have been greeted with a hostile reaction at the conference from the largely pro-net neutrality tech industry.

When asked by Business Insider whether the decision to cancel was due to concerns about a potential backlash to net neutrality repeal, an FCC spokesperson said they “don’t have anything to share at this time.”

But tech commentators on Twitter pointed out Pai was unlikely to receive a particularly warm welcome at the event.

“I imagine he would’ve gotten a lot of pointed questions,” wrote CNET executive editor Roger Cheng.

Jeremy Kaplan, editor-in-chief on Digital Trends, said: “I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say he realized that the tech industry kinda despises him.”

Sitting FCC chairmen almost always attend CES, and have spoken at the conference on an annual basis almost every year since at least 2009. (2017 was an exception, though then-chairman Tom Wheeler was due to step down from the role two weeks later, and Pai was in attendance.)