FCC's Pai: Broadcasting Should be Cherished, Encouraged

FCC chair Ajit Pai told a virtual NAB Show audience Wednesday that their legacy public service commitment is "showing up in spades" during the pandemic. 

Fresh from the FCC's May 13 public meeting, Pai was able to appear at the NAB Show Express virtual convention to be interviewed by NAB President Gordon Smith only a couple of hours later. 

That was at least one advantage to the move from a Las Vegas convention center to online, where that double appearance by the chairman would not have been possible. 

Related: Smith Says Broadcasting Will Endure

FCC shifted to telework March 12 and Pai told Smith it has been a challenged managing two stir-crazy kids and working work in between bike rides and hide-and-seek. Pai's appearance was punctuated from the sounds of those kids in the background--Pai cited the "eloquence" of that input. 

Smith pointed out that the NAB had not yet been able to move into its new headquarters, and asked how the FCC was doing with its move, which was to have happened about the same time. Pai said its June moving date will be delayed at least a couple of months. 

Smith asked what the FCC is focusing on at the moment. 

Pai said that while he thought the pace might slow from home, FCC's work has actually sped up during the pandemic, including administering its Keep America Connected pledge for ISPs. He also cited working with broadcasters to extend deadlines. He said the FCC's employees had really stepped up and exemplified what it meant to be a public service. 

The FCC's focus has clearly been on broadband, but Smith steered him toward all the contributions broadcasters are making. 

Smith said broadcasters had been busy, too, with coverage, and charity work. He asked about the job broadcasters had been doing. Pai said broadcasters were showing why their one-to-many platform was so important, and the FCC should "cherish and encourage it" as much as possible. 

But Smith also asked Pai about that ISP connectivity pledge and gave the chairman time to explain the pledge, which he did, as well as giving broadband providers their due for complying and, in some cases, going beyond.  

Pai encouraged broadcasters to reach out and let the FCC no how it can help, because preserving the service is vital. Smith said waiving fees during the pandemic, as some broadcasters had asked, would be welcome news.  

The FCC voted Wednesday (May 13) to proceed with collecting those fees, but did ask for input on how it might mitigate the impact on broadcasters already taking an economic hit from the pandemic. The FCC's operational budget--north of $300 million--comes from fees on regulated entities including broadcasters.

Smith asked whether Pai would continue as chairman of move on into another job. Pai said the FCC was still in a sprint and he hadn't thought about what he was going to do when he crossed the finish line. "I will continue to give this my all," he said.  

Pai called Smith a role model from whom he had learned a lot about what to say and how to say it. Smith said he would support Pai for President, "and be happy to be your vice president."  

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.