Pai, NAB: Delay the Net Neutrality Vote

It is not exactly a palace revolt, but commissioner Ajit Pai Thursday came out in favor of delaying the FCC's May 15 vote on net neutrality rules, following the suggestion by Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel a day earlier that the May 15 vote should be delayed. The National Association of Broadcasters also signaled to B&C it backed the delay.

"I have grave concerns about the chairman’s proposal on Internet regulation and do not believe that it should be considered at the Commission’s May meeting," said Pai. "Instead, I believe that the Commission should focus for the next week on getting the rules for the incentive auction right."

Broadcasters concerned about the auction were all for the delay too. "Given the complexity of the upcoming incentive auction order [also on the May 15 agenda], which is apparently 450 pages long, we would endorse suggestions of commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai to delay next week's vote on network neutrality."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler did waive the sunshine notice to allow stakeholders to pitch FCC staffers on their positions on the network neutrality draft up until May 14, rather than the traditional seven-day quiet period that would have begun Thursday.

The FCC's agenda, released after Pai's statement Thursday (May 8), still had the item listed for a vote, and a commission source said the plan remained to vote the item May 15.

That likely means the chairman still believes he can muster the votes to pass it. The Republicans are opposed to reviving the new rules, so they are a long shot. But Rosenworcel has concerns about them, too, though she had said that, short of delaying the vote, waiving the sunshine rules was the least the FCC should do to collect as much input as possible given the massive interest in the issue.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn would not comment on her view of a May 15 vote, or what her vote might be, saying the chairman determines the agenda. But she did say that she "remained an advocate for promoting robust engagement," and pointed out that the notice of proposed rulemaking itself "officially launches an invitation for everyone on the proposal to adopt new rules. This is why I have been and will continue to be an advocate for an item that is balanced and discusses all options and a pathway to enable parties to submit comments so that we can arrive at the right public policy."

Clyburn has long said the FCC's rules should prevent paid priority, the hot-button issue in the chairman's rule revamp. Wheeler has pointed out that the new rules could still prevent paid priority if it were found to be a commercially unreasonable form of discrimination that worked against the goal of getting advanced telecommunications to all Americans. The new rules allow reasonable discrimination, but as determined by the FCC on a case-by-case basis.

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.