Ajit Pai jokes with Verizon exec about him being a “puppet” FCC chair

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at Fox Studios on November 10, 2017 in New York City.Getty Images | John Lamparski

On Thursday night in Washington, DC, net neutrality advocates gathered outside the annual Federal Communications Commission Chairman's Dinner to protest Chairman Ajit Pai's impending rollback of net neutrality rules.

Inside the dinner (also known as the "telecom prom") at the Washington Hilton, Pai entertained the audience with jokes about him being a puppet installed by Verizon to lead the FCC.

Pai was a Verizon associate general counsel from 2001 to 2003, and next week he will lead an FCC vote to eliminate net neutrality rules—just as Verizon and other ISPs have asked him to.

At the dinner, Pai played a satirical video that showed him planning his ascension to the FCC chairmanship with a Verizon executive in 2003. The Verizon executive was apparently Kathleen Grillo, a senior VP and deputy general counsel in the company's public policy and government affairs division.

The speech was apparently not supposed to be public, but Gizmodo obtained footage of Pai's remarks and the skit. You can watch it here.

Brainwashing a Verizon puppet

Pai introduced the Verizon skit with these remarks:

In collusion, I mean conclusion… sorry, Freudian slip, my bad. Many people are still shell-shocked that I'm up here tonight [as chairman]. They ask themselves, "How on Earth did this happen?" Well, moments before tonight's dinner, somebody leaked a 14-year-old video that helps answer that question, and in all candor I can no longer hide from the truth.

The video then rolled. Here's a transcript:

Verizon executive: "As you know, the FCC is captured by industry. But we think it's not captured enough. We want to brainwash and groom a Verizon puppet to install as FCC chairman. Think Manchurian Candidate."

Ajit Pai: "That sounds awesome."

Verizon executive: "I know, right? There are only two problems. First, this is going to take 14 years to incubate. We need to find someone smart, young, ambitious, but dorky enough to throw the scent off."

Ajit Pai: "Hello."

Verizon executive: "So you will do it?"

Ajit Pai: "Absolutely. But you said there was another issue?"

Verizon executive: We need to find a Republican who can win the presidency in 2016 to appoint you FCC chairman. I think our best bet is an outsider, but I have no idea who that would be. If only somebody can give us a sign.

At that point in the video, a picture of Donald Trump appeared.

"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I became chairman of the FCC," Pai told the audience, to laughs and applause.

The annual dinner is hosted by the Federal Communications Bar Association, a group of telecom attorneys and other communications industry professionals.

“Can’t wait for those fast lanes”

Pai also joked about the FCC re-locating to Trump Tower and the paid fast lanes that ISPs will be able to sell to online services after the net neutrality repeal. Noting that he recently toured parts of America in rental cars, Pai said, "can't wait for those fast lanes."

Pai also poked fun at Democrats' claims that he has shown favoritism toward Sinclair, a broadcast station owner that is trying to buy the Tribune Media Company.

"People ask me, 'what keeps you up at night?' and it's actually pretty easy: the thought of the FCC having to resolve a retransmission dispute between Verizon and Sinclair," Pai said. "I mean, how do you choose between a longtime love and your newfound crush?"

Footage of Pai's speech leaking to the press is perhaps not surprising given one of the remarks he made. Saying he wanted to provide advice to the FCC's Democratic minority, Pai said his first tip is to "Leak frequently. You can't set the commission's agenda, but you can set Comm Daily's."

Pai also spoke about his plans to eliminate net neutrality rules at an event at Verizon's DC office on Tuesday, referring to the rules as "so-called 'net neutrality.'” The FCC's net neutrality repeal vote is scheduled for December 14.

Here's a look at the protest that happened outside the Chairman's Dinner:

  • "Face reality, we need net neutrality," protestors chanted.
  • The protest in DC kicked off at 5:30pm ET just north of Dupont Circle outside the Hilton where the FCC's chairman dinner was held. Beth Mole
  • Some organizers set up a large projection on the side of a building across from the protest, blaring their message to DC commuters. There was an impressive amount of support honking in return.
  • The need for equal access was a strong theme throughout the evening.
  • Dozens of protestors gathered along the busy Connecticut Ave. in DC.
  • Above the zippy traffic was a warning about slow lanes.
  • Many protestors were frustrated with Pai.
  • Protestors saw a free Internet as critical to democracy.
  • Supporting net neutrality along the sidewalk.
  • Save the Inte-rnet.
  • As protestors gathered in the cold, they chanted and passed out fliers on net neutrality.
  • Ajit Pai was not popular.
  • Protestors waved signs to passing commuters.
  • A short but sweet message.
  • Protestors took turns talking about what net neutrality meant to them.
  • Some of the chants, including "This is what democracy looks like!"
  • Protestors did not mince words about who would benefit if net neutrality is lost.
  • Some protestors talked about what a free Internet meant for them. Examples included self-publishing poetry and having access to educational information.
  • Keep it wild!
  • Protestors expressed frustration that their voices weren't being heard.
  • Honk if you want net neutrality!
  • Organizers stayed outside of the hotel for hours as FCC officials gathered inside.
  • Ditching net neutrality only serves corporate interests, protestor Shannon Smith told Ars.
  • Who doesn't <3 the Internet?
  • Protesters engaged in informative conversations with passers-by about the issue.
  • This protestor from New York, was furious.
  • No corporate gate keepers.
  • Protest leaders led chants with a megaphone.
  • Many protestors were frustrated with Pai.
  • Pai haters.

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