FCC’s O'Rielly Warns Against Zero Rating 'Gift' to Net Neutrality Activists

FCC Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly is ready to join his fellow commissioner Ajit Pai in clearing out the "regulatory underbrush" under a new Republican Administration, as well as preventing any last-ditch effort to reign in zero rating plans.

President-elect Donald Trump has sent some progressive populist signals when it came to media merger reviews—notably his attacks on AT&T-Time Warner and Comcast-NBCU—but he has named a deregulatory trio to his FCC transition team and talked about getting rid of two regs for every one added.

In a speech to the Free State Foundation Wednesday, O'Rielly said that in addition to clearing away that business-choking regulatory underbrush and harmful policies—like Title II reclassification—the new FCC should roll back any attempt of the current FCC majority to give "one last gift" under the tree for net neutrality activists.

He was referring to the Wireless Bureau's "aggressive pursuit" of its year-long zero rating investigation. It has recently sent letters to both AT&T saying it thinks those plans run afoul of network neutrality rules. "As my colleague Commissioner Pai and I have pointed out, any attempt to roll out a new policy on this front can easily be reviewed and potentially reversed within weeks," he said, but suggested there could still be collateral damage. "[T]he underlying document could still be out there, waiting to be dug up like a time capsule years from now and cited as some sort of precedent," he said. "Next year’s Commission should consider acting quickly to reverse any damaging policies put into place over the last eight years and in the last few weeks of this Administration. It should likewise close out any problematic notices and dockets."

O'Rielly said he looked forward to helping the new FCC, under whoever leads it, "undo harmful policies, clear regulatory underbrush, develop and execute a strong pro-growth, pro-innovation agenda, and overhaul the Commission’s arcane processes and its organization."

Some of the things that would be on O'Rielly's to do list would be to wrap up the proceeding eliminating broadcaster paper file requirements and reforming the Team Telecom (national security) reviews of communications deals involving foreign owners.

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.