Republican FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly says he shares many of the policy positions of President-elect Donald Trump and advised that while the FCC still has important functions—like spectrum management—how those are handled going forward is an open question. What is not is whether a Republican FCC, if O'Rielly has anything do about it, will take a whack at the regulatory underbrush and the Title II-related actions—on broadband privacy and zero rating, for example—of the current administration.
O'Rielly says the commission in a Trump Administration should focus on four main things: 1) remove regulatory underbrush, which he said were regs that have been on the books "for a long time" but make no sense in the current marketplace; 2) undertake structural reforms of the commission itself, saying that structure has "broken down"; 3) undertake a pro-growth, pro-innovation agenda, for example antenna citing for wireless nets; and 4) undo bad and partisan policies, where he said he and his fellow Republican commissioner Ajit Pai's input was not "even given the time of day."
He was being interviewed for C-SPAN's Communicators series.
O'Rielly said he shares a number of policy views with Donald Trump, including getting rid of two regs for every one adopted. He said that reads as "simplistic" but said that would be a way to get at the regulatory underbrush that needs trimming. He said there are a lot of regs that could go, so that two-for-one could result in a much more effective and efficient agency and "more opportunity for providers to serve consumers."
Asked about what he might undo, he said check out his dissents. That would include revoking Title II reclassification but also network neutrality in the "broader sense," he said. "I think that will be a priority," he said, with the caveat that would be up to the next chairman.
He suggested that paid prioritization didn't need a rule prohibiting it in the absence of demonstrable harm.
Either O'Rielly, or more likely senior Republican Ajit Pai, could be tapped as interim chair. And either is likely to advance the agenda O'Rielly cited. Pai has already said he wants to get out the regulatory weed whacker, and he and O'Rielly teamed up for press conferences after public meeting votes, frequently partisan votes, to make points they thought were not given that time of day and to suggest the need for reforms and more pro-growth and investment posture.
O'Rielly echoed his concerns that the FCC under current chairman Tom Wheeler would crack down on zero rating plans as a parting regulatory shot. He said he wanted to understand more about the substance of those plans and not cut consumers off from beneficial services without doing that due diligence.
As to FCC process reforms, O'Rielly said that number one was publishing the documents the commission is about to vote on at public meetings. He said the commissioners get the documents three weeks in advance of those meetings and that is when they should be published so the public can weigh in.
Wheeler was asked, including by many on Capitol Hill, to do that in the set-top box debate but said since those documents could still be edited and changed—and often are—it is work in process rather than a finished product.
He also said eliminating or combining FCC bureaus should definitely be on the table.
Asked if there was even a need for the FCC, he said that there were functions important, including spectrum management and licensing. But he said whether that needed to be handled by the FCC or could be handled elsewhere remained "open questions."
O'Rielly said he sees media ownership issues cropping up in the new year, including an opportunity to eliminate the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rules and other ownership limits.
He did not appear enthusiastic about revamping the business data services market, as chairman Wheeler tried to do, but said he would keep an open mind.
The Communicators episode airs Saturday, Dec. 17, on C-SPAN at 6:30 p.m. ET and Monday, Dec. 19, on C-SPAN2 at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET.
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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.