FCC's Pai: D.C. Should Not Micromanage Dynamic Industry

FCC chairman Ajit Pai says D.C. bureaucrats should not micromanage dynamic industries and that he supports Congress making broadband part of an infrastructure legislative package. He also suggests the government should not be trying to divine journalists' editorial judgments.

Pai was interviewed on CNBC's Squawk Box Wednesday, and while he not provide any new insights into his deregulatory agenda, he did talk about his political philosophy of light-tough regulation.

When asked for a timetable for rolling back the FCC's Title II reclassification of ISPs, Pai said he could not provide one. He did say the ultimate goal was to preserve an internet he argues had been open for two decades before the FCC decided to reclassify ISPs as common carriers.

He said the takeaway from those two decades was that light-touch regulation was best and signaled that was what he was aiming to restore.

Pai put in a plug for making broadband part of an infrastructure package in Congress. "I think what Americans really want is better, faster, cheaper internet access," he said, "and for the Congress to give the private sector more tools to promote broadband development."

He explained that would mean giving those private players "the maximum incentive to deploy," primarily by removing regulatory barriers to investment, barriers he argues have prevented buildouts by the private sector.

He said that light-touch framework was one he hoped to return to on a bipartisan basis.

The chairman would not comment on whether there would be more consolidation in the wireless industry or if that would be a bad thing. But he did say he thought the current marketplace was extremely competitive and delivering "unparalleled value," pointing to recent announcements by carriers of unlimited data plans.

Jim Cramer said it looked like investors were buying stock on the assumption government would be getting out of the way of business and asked Pai if that was his sense and just how companies would benefit from his light regulatory touch.

Pai explained that his theory was that a light touch meant letting a dynamic free market develop without micromanaging, but that if there is a demonstrated market failure, action might be necessary, if the FCC has the authority, in targeted cases. "Otherwise, we don't sit in judgment from Washington, D.C."

He said that in his view, the internet "should be run by technologists and engineers and business people, not by lawyers and bureaucrats here in the Nation's Capital."

President Donald Trump has been critical of the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger and Time Warner's CNN. Asked by David Faber what he would do if the President tried to dictate merger outcomes, Pai said that he would be guided by the public interest standard when reviewing the facts of any specific deal and whether that deal would benefit consumers and competition.

Faber pointed out that Pai had spoken out strongly against a proposed FCC study of TV station news rooms and how they covered stories—Pai considered it a threat to journalistic independence and the first amendment.

Faber asked whether the President's branding of the media as an enemy of the people was a similar government threat.

Pai called that a political debate above his pay grade but did say that, at least in the context of the proposed FCC study, "we don’t want the government to be in a position where we're sending monitors or researchers into newsrooms and asking them to document for the government why they're choosing to cover some stories and not others. That's one of the classic editorial judgements that I think properly belongs with you and your counterparts at other news organizations."

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.