Ajit Pai defends decision to revoke numerous consumer-protection regulations.

New U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai late last week defended his decision to roll back numerous regulations implemented during the last days of his predecessor Tom Wheeler.

Pai’s move attracted criticism from consumer advocates and fellow FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

On Friday, Pai closed investigations into zero-rated services offered by AT&T and Verizon. The two telcos stood accused of violating the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

"These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace," Pai said. " Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings."

Pai also revoked the Lifeline Broadband Provider (LBP) status – which grants permission to provide subsidised Internet services to low-income households – of nine ISPs. Earlier last week, he also ordered the FCC not to defend rules limiting capping the cost of phone calls by prisoners – known as the Inmate Telephone Service.

In a statement, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn accused Pai of hypocrisy by taking unilateral action without providing an explanation or making a public announcement.

"My office requested more than the allotted two days to review the dozen items released today. We were rebuffed. Then, we simply asked to have the bureaus comply with the reasoned decision-making requirements of the APA (Administrative Procedure Act). No deal," she said on Friday. "It is disappointing to see this chairman engage in the same actions for which he criticised the prior chairman."

Pai was formally nominated as FCC chairman in late January, having been appointed as a commissioner by former president Barack Obama in 2012. He generally favours a light-touch, market-led approach to regulating the telco industry, and was against the FCC’s decision to enforce net neutrality under Title II of the Communications Act.

Consumer advocacy group Free Press claimed that Pai’s actions on Friday has curtailed several important consumer-protection orders.

"Pai followed President Trump’s lead by issuing his own types of executive orders, which undermine the democratic process, strip consumers of safeguards and rob millions of the neediest families of the help they need to bridge the digital divide," said Matt Wood, director of policy at Free Press.

Pai insisted that all he is doing is rolling back several rushed rulings – so-called ‘midnight regulations’ – made by Wheeler before he left office.

"In some cases, commissioners were given no advance notice whatsoever of these midnight regulations. In other cases, they were issued over the objection of two of the four commissioners. And in all cases, their release ran contrary to the wishes expressed by the leadership of our congressional oversight committees," said Pai.

"These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward. Accordingly, they are being revoked," he said.