Berry Decries 'My Way Or Highway' FCC

Matthew Berry, chief of staff for commissioner Ajit Pai, took aim at the Wheeler FCC Wednesday and what he called a "my way or the highway" approach.

His boss has complained of not having sufficient time to vet items and other process issues.

At the FCC's July meeting, both Republican commissioners said their suggested edits had been ignored. Pai said the chairman had rejected his compromises and said many things were nonnegotiable as a matter of principle. "Take it or leave it party line votes have become the new normal for high-profile commission items," he said. "This is not good process, and devastating substance."

Berry echoed that concern in a speech to the National Conference of State Legislatures' legislative summit in Minneapolis Wednesday.

The thrust of the speech was to argue that Wheeler was wrong in asserting FCC authority to preempt state regs limiting municipal broadband, but he began his speech, according to a copy issued by Pai's office, by pointing to the number of partisan votes under Wheeler over the past nine months, citing a Politico stat that it was more than in the previous 8-plus years.

"The Commission used to go the extra mile to reach bipartisan consensus," he said. "I witnessed that firsthand under both Republican and Democratic leadership." Berry is former FCC deputy general counsel under Republican chairman Kevin Martin (as was Pai).

"[U]nfortunately," said Berry, "the difficult work of finding common ground has been replaced too often by a bit of simple math. Three Democrats can always outvote two Republicans."

He said that "my way or the highway” was bad for the FCC. "The lack of give and take produces bad policy and undermines our institutional legitimacy," he said.

"The FCC’s current predicament brings to mind what has been called the first law of holes and is sometimes attributed to Will Rogers: 'If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.' This is sound advice. But will the Commission heed it? Or will we just continue digging ourselves a deeper hole?"

He said one indication will be how the FCC handles "municipal, taxpayer-funded broadband."

Wheeler says the FCC should preempt those laws if they impede the rollout of broadband. Berry says laws aren't the problem, and the FCC "[does] not have the bandwidth to waste on a symbolic, feel-good effort that appears designed to appease a political constituency that is unhappy with where the FCC is headed on other issues."

An FCC spokesperson pointed out that when all items including items voted on circulation as of Aug. 8 are added to the total of votes under Wheeler, 85% of them were 5-0.

An official speaking on background also pointed out that the commission has just released another 5-0 vote--on streamlining FCC accounting rules--and that both commissioner Pai and Republican Michael O'Rielly acknowledged that the chairman's office had accepted a number of their edits.

Not accepting edits has been one of the Republican commissioners' complaints with the chairman's office.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.