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FCC's Pai Hammered on 'Times,' 'Post' Editorial Pages

New FCC chairman Ajit Pai took shots from the editorial pages of both the Washington Post and New York Times Feb. 11 for his initial efforts to roll back various decisions and reports under his predecessor.

The New York Times called it an anti-consumer agenda and suggested Pai had joined a campaign by President Donald Trump to undo rules that protect Americans and did so in service of large telecom companies over the interest of children and the poor.

It was echoing the criticisms of public advocacy groups and Tom Wheeler allies who have been slamming Pai over, among other things, reversing broadband subsidy authorizations for nine companies—Pai said until potential waste, fraud and abuse can be better addressed—invalidating reports he said are no longer the position of the commission, and taking the set-top box revamp and business data services items out of circulation after Wheeler left them on the docket for potential votes.

The New York Times said that while the FCC was created to "help all Americans obtain access to communication services without discrimination and at fair prices," Pai was doing the exact opposite.

The Washington Post wrote very much the same thing, emphasizing that while Pai had come into the job talking the talk of closing the digital divide, he had walked "in the other direction." It focused on rescinding the Lifeline subsidy authorizations. A Pai spokesman said last week, "Chairman Pai shares the Senators’ commitment to closing the digital divide and believes that the Lifeline program can play an important role in helping to achieve that objective."

Pai's pledge of focusing on access to broadband, particularly in rural areas, was accompanied by a pledge to start taking a weed whacker to regs he thought were no longer necessary and by a long-standing interest in weeding out waste, fraud and abuse in large subsidy programs as well as reforming FCC processes to boost transparency.

While he took several transparency-related steps, including requiring commissioners to recommend any post-vote edits on items and testing the publication of the text of proposals before votes, he took criticism for pulling several reports, which disappeared from the bureau websites where they had resided but remained available in archival form on the site, according to an FCC spokesperson. "[T]hey are null and void and no longer represent the views of the Bureau and Office in question," said the spokesman, "but people could be confused if they saw the report and didn’t see the rescission item."

The Times and Post editorials followed one in the Wall Street Journal Feb. 9 that focused on the process reforms and praised the new chairman for "rolling out useful changes" it said were "restoring bipartisanship and political accountability to an agency that desperately needs it."

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.