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FCC's Pai Pans Enforcement Bureau

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai took his criticism of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau to the legal minds that have to deal with the results of bureau actions.

In a speech to the 33rd annual Practicing Law Institute/Federal Communications Bar Association Institute on Telecommunications Policy & Regulation, Pai said the bureau was trying to grab headlines with big fines rather than following the law.

"We have to recognize that the Enforcement Bureau’s purpose is not to pursue media coverage as vigorously as Roxie Hart from the musical Chicago," Pai said, according to a copy of his prepared text in which he displayed his penchant for colorful analogies. "Nor is it to make policy on a whim. Rather, it is to firmly but fairly enforce rules that are already on the books."

He was echoing criticisms of the bureau he aired at a House FCC oversight hearing last month.

Pai said the bureau's priorities are off, that it is no longer accountable to FCC commissioners and that it is less productive than in the past, something bureau chief Travis LeBlanc definitely disputes.

Pai complained during last month's House hearing that the bureau had not responded to his requests for information on investigations currently in the pipeline, though during that hearing, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler suggested that did not break with precedent.

In his speech, Pai called for more congressional oversight and said the commissioners should get to vote on large consent decree settlements -- those of more than $100,000 for common carriers, and more than $25,000 for others. He pointed out commissioners already get to vote on notices of apparent liability or forfeiture orders above those amounts.

He also called for deadline for final action, either acting on a forfeiture order within a year or nullifying it. He also said the bureau should give consumers a way to track and understand the progress of a case involving a notice of apparent liability.

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.