No Action on Sec. 230, Says FCC's Ajit Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
(Image credit: N/A)

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said he is not planning on issuing a rulemaking on Section 230 before he exits the commission Jan. 20. He also said of the violence at the Capitol this week that it was a "terrible mistake" for the President to suggest the results of the election could be changed.

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Pai said he would not second guess the decisions by Twitter and Facebook to shut down Trump's accounts, which came in the wake of what has been labeled an insurgency and coup attempt by some of the President's followers.

Asked to comment on the violence at the Capitol and whether the President bore any responsibility for it, Pai said that "the scenes we saw were outrageous and extremely disappointing to those of us who cherish American democracy," including the peaceful transition of power.

"I think it was a terrible mistake to suggest that the results of the election and particularly the process that culminated in the Senate and the House [counting electoral vote] could in any way be changed. That was a terrible mistake and one that I do not believe should have been indulged."

Asked about Section 230, the Communications Decency Act provision which protects website publishers from liability over third-party statements, Pai said: "I do not intend to move forward with a notice of proposed rulemaking," he said in an interview for C-SPAN's The Communicators series, confirming what many already assumed given the outcome of the election.

Pai had announced back in October his plan to take up the issue of web sites' Section 230 immunity from civil liability for content posted on their sites, but with the change in administration he had not been expected to have the time to push that through, particularly given that a Democratic FCC could simply undo it.

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Pai had also been advised by congressional Democrats to stand down from any controversial decisions after Joe Biden's election win.

Now that the Senate will be under Democratic control, a Democratic FCC majority will be installed more quickly than was likely if the Senate had stayed in Republican hands, further lessening the likelihood that a Republican take on Section 230 would stick.

Pai said the decision was in part because with the change in administration there was not time to complete the administrative steps, which would have meant putting the proposal out for public comment before making any decision. "Given that reality, I do not believe it is appropriate to move forward."

The chairman said he did not plan to resign early, as have some other Trump appointees in protest, at least not before the FCC's Jan. 13 public meeting. 

The Communicators episode with Pai airs on C-SPAN at 10:30 p.m. ET Friday, Jan. 8, and Saturday, Jan. 9, at 6:30 p.m. ET. It also airs Monday, Jan. 11, at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET on C-SPAN2.

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.