Skip to main content

Pai Pans FCC Process

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai is not happy with a decision made by the FCC's Media Bureau this week related to changes to the FCC's plan for the AWS-3 spectrum reclamation and auction plan. Pai's principle concern appeared to be with the process, saying it was "no way to run a railroad."

"When you’re told that you must vote on an item before you can learn what you’re voting on, something is very wrong," he said in a statement Friday. "But regrettably, this is just the latest breakdown in process at the Federal Communications Commission."

Pai also expressed concerns about FCC process at the most recent open meeting. In reference to last-minute changes to an item he said: "Take it or leave it party line votes have become the new normal for high-profile commission items. This is not good process, and devastating substance."

Pai says that back in March he got a draft order to "change some of the AWS-3 geographic coordination zones adopted by the FCC," but that after he asked how the document he was being asked to vote on would change the zones and what the new ones were, he was told he would be briefed after the item was adopted.

"My position is simple," he said in the statement Friday. "I can’t cast an informed vote on new coordination zones if I don’t know what those coordination zones are. Voting first and then learning about what you’ve voted on is irresponsible."

"Unfortunately, others disagreed; the item was pulled from the full Commission and pushed out at the Bureau level today."

The AWS-3 spectrum is being shared with government agencies and the zones are where commercial entities will have to coordinate with those agencies.

“Delegated authority enables the Commission to conduct business efficiently and promptly," said an FCC spokesman in response. "In this case, the Bureau acted within its clear delegated authority to ensure timely release of the notice, in coordination with NTIA's release of the agencies' transition plans, and potential bidders' need to plan for the upcoming auction. Chairman Wheeler offered his fellow Commissioners the opportunity to vote on the notice. But, because some Commissioners did not vote on the notice by the deadline, and in the interest of swift work on behalf of the American public, the Bureau released the notice.”

That deadline was said to have been July 15. An FCC source says commissioners' staffs were briefed and that the notice was circulated by the chairman July 2 as a courtesy, with the expectation it would be voted on by then, particularly since it had three votes already, but that two commissioners had not voted on it by that time—Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly was not available for comment on whether he represented the other "no" vote, although he has expressed concerns about process as well.

The chairman is said to believe the nonvoters were trying to obstruct the item by refusing to vote. A source speaking on background said commissioner Pai was simply not willing to vote to approve an item without knowing what was in 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.