FCC chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation over $3.9 billion media deal

Killing net neutrality may have been an unpopular move, and sure, the commenting period leading up to the FCC's vote was a farce, but the process that was spearheaded by FCC chairman Ajit Pai was entirely legal. What may have not been, however, is a mega media deal that Pai made possible last year.

According to a report in The New York Times, Ajit Pai and the FCC approved a set of rules in 2017 to allow television broadcasters to increase the number of stations they own. Weeks after the rules were approved, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media

The deal was made possible by the new set of rules, which subsequently raised some eyebrows. Notably, the FCC's inspector general is reportedly investigating if Pai and his aides abused their position by pushing for the rule changes that would make the deal possible, and timing them to benefit Sinclair.

"For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai’s relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting," Mr. Pallone, the top Democrat on the committee that oversees the FCC, told NYT. "I am grateful to the FCC's inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation."

The extent of the investigation is not clear, nor is how long it will take. However, it does bring up the question of whether Pai had coordinated with Sinclair, and it could force him to publicly address the topic, which he hasn't really done up to this point.

Legislators first pushed for an investigation into this matter last November. At the time, a spokesman for the FCC representing Pai called the allegations "baseless" and alluded to it being a partisan play by those who oppose the chairman.

"For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the FCC to update its media ownership regulations," the FCC spokesman said. "The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it’s not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals."

It's uncertain at this point if anything major will come from this investigation, but in the off-chance that Pai was found to have acted improperly, it would cast further doubt on his intentions in siding with ISPs in the net neutrality debate (even though it's a separate issue).