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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has bailed on speaking at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, shortly after spearheading the agency’s move to dismantle net neutrality protections.
The Consumer Technology Association, an industry group that operates the show in Las Vegas every year, announced the cancellation in an emailed statement. It’s an unexpected move, given that Pai was slated to speak on Tuesday, less than a week from now. The statement didn’t give a reason for Pai’s absence, and a FCC spokesman declined to comment on the chairman’s reasons for abruptly abandoning his public appearance at the show.
Pai was supposed to get interviewed by Gary Shapiro, the president and CEO of the CTA, alongside Maureen Ohlhausen, the acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Tom Wheeler, Pai’s predecessor as FCC chairman, was a regular fixture at the conference, though he declined to speak last year, during the final days of his tenure at the agency.
Wheeler was on his way out, however — his scheduled interview with Shapiro came shortly before the inauguration of Donald Trump, who named Pai chairman.
Today’s news comes just weeks after the FCC, led by Pai, voted along party lines to dismantle net neutrality protections that — among other things — required internet service providers to not throttle traffic based on its source. That decision was blasted by many key players in the tech industry, though the CTA remained silent on the move.
At the same time, the issue of net neutrality was almost guaranteed to come up on stage, considering that Shapiro discussed it with Wheeler in 2016, following the Commission’s vote on the rules that Pai helped dismantle.
CES has been a key venue for government figures like Pai and Ohlhausen. Their predecessors used appearances at the show to help communicate regulatory agencies’ stances to technology companies, which is key after major changes like dismantling net neutrality.