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Pai: FCC Has Made No Meaningful Progress on Process Reforms

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said Thursday that the commission
still had work to do on the mobile spectrum allocation and process reform
fronts. He also said the FCC either needs to set an internal schedule for
various elements required for holding a broadcast incentive auction in 2014, or
if that is not possible reconsider that 2014 date.

That is according to a copy of a speech commissioner Pai was giving on Thursday in Pittsburgh, the city where he delivered his first speech as FCC commissioner a year ago.

"Having a time frame in mind [for the auctiond] is helpful," Pai told B&C/Multi after the speech. "It focuses the attention of the commission and gives us a target to shoot for. But if that target isn't realistic given the complexity of these issues and changing personnel at the FCC [it is awaiting a full-time chairman and second Republican commissioner] then we would be well served and the public would be well served if we revisited what the target was just to give FCC staff and the industry a little more certainty."

In that first Pittsburg speech, Pai said the FCC needed to accelerate
efforts to allocate spectrum for mobile broadband; remove regulatory barriers
to infrastructure investment; and be "as nimble as the industry we

Pai said that the FCC had not made "any meaningful
process reforms" over the past 12 months since his first speech calling
for them. He conceded that some of those reforms would take congressional
action-coincidentally the House Communications Subcommittee on a voice vote Thursday
favorably reported two FCC process reform bills to the full committee.

"I understand that there will be times when my
colleagues and I will disagree. And when we disagree, I understand that I'll
generally draw the short end of the stick," he said. "But FCC
responsiveness shouldn't be a majority-or-minority, Republican-or-Democrat
issue. Process reform isn't partisan. Whether the matter before us involves a
Fortune 500 company, a small start-up, a public interest group or an individual
consumer, the Commission should respond promptly. Parties might not like the
answer that we give them. But they deserve an answer. As one person said to me,
'Tell me yes, tell me no, but just tell me.'"

Following the speech, Pai talked to B&C/Multi about what specific reforms the FCC had failed to undertake, though it had the authority without any additional congressional input.

"Some of them are pretty simple. Establishing more deadlines for ourselves and giving those deadlines some teeth, whether that it is in the context of a rulemaking, saying the FCC should act by such and such a date, or in the context of an adjudication." He said similarly adding sunset clauses to rules unless they are necessary in the public interest. " I don't see process reforms like these as partisan and I hope in the coming year we can see some meaningful reforms.

The House Communications Subcommittee-approved FCC reform bills include one that would consolidate FCC reports to Congress. Pai says that is the one most "palatable" to both sides. "If there were some way to consolidate all those reports that would make them more meaningful, say requiring the FCC to report every other year on the state of the entire communications industry, it would save staff resources and give Congress a one-stop shop for information they need and it would be better for the public, who would not have to scour every nook and cranny of the FCC's Web site to figure out what the FCC's current opinion was."

On the spectrum front, Pai said in his speech that the FCC had achieved the
first three steps he had outlined, adopt and revise rules for the AWS-4 and WCS
spectrum bands and launch the incentive auction rulemaking. But he said the FCC
still needed to do four things soon: 1) establish rules by the end of the year
for freeing 195 MHz in the 5 GHz band (the Clyburn FCC this week began that process);
2) begin an auction of H block spectrum by Jan. 14, 2014 (which the FCC's
Wireless Bureau has proposed); 3) keep the pedal to the metal on the incentive
auction by establishing a schedule for meeting a 2014 auction goal--"If
there is a realistic schedule that will allow us to conduct the incentive
auction next year, we should outline it and try to follow it as best we can. If
there isn't, then we should admit that our goal has fallen out of reach and set
a new target," he says; and 4) clear federal users out of the 1755-1780
band (the commission's Wireless Bureau has also just issued auction rules for
that and other spectrum, though it proposes allowing sharing of the band if
clearing is infeasible).

Pai says clearing off those federal users is a matter of
political will. "We won the Cold War in the 1980s without firing a shot.
And we refused to say it was over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, as John
Belushi reminded us in Animal House.
Surely, we have the capacity as a nation to clear at least 25 MHz of
spectrum," he said.

On the regulatory barriers front, Pai put in a plug for
immediately launching an all-IP pilot program, which begins with issuing a
notice of proposed rulemaking to work out the specifics.

He calls those trials a necessary first step in
the IP transition. The FCC in May issued a public notice setting up what it
called "real world trials" of all-IP nets, thoughthat was short of the green light AT&T was looking for when it proposed
creating the all-IP test markets to gauge the impact of the transition from traditional
copper wire networks.