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Pai Preaches Regulatory Humility

Fresh off a public meeting stuffed with votes on high-profile items, FCC Chairman Pai sought to put them all in perspective in a speech to the Cato Institute in New York.

He did not tip his hand on next week's expected circulation of an Open Internet order, but he did provide tips on how what the FCC is looking to accomplish.

"Across the board, we are reviewing our regulations to make sure that they reflect current market conditions; that they are applied evenly and fairly; and that they are consistent with the law and sound principles of economics," he said, according to a copy of his remarks. "In some cases, that means streamlining rules to reflect current technological and marketplace realities.  In other cases, that means eliminating them altogether. In all cases, it means getting government out of the way as much as possible in order to encourage private initiative."

He also talked up regulatory humility as the correct posture for his agency, suggesting that government's crystal ball was cloudy at best and its track record at picking winners and losers was a disaster.

The chairman ticked off the ways the Nov. 16 meeting votes on media ownership, the copper-to-fiber network transition, and more furthered those goals.

"I’m proud that the FCC voted to eliminate the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership," he told his audience. "This ban was adopted back in 1975, when the media world was defined entirely by pulp, rabbit ears, and transistor radios, and there were no cable channels or that little thing called the Internet.  That ban will now end.  For, these days, the notion that common ownership of a radio or television station and a newspaper poses a threat of monopolizing the media market is utterly absurd."

Related: FCC Deregulates Broadcast Ownership

On copper retirement, he said the FCC had voted to cut red tape and free broadband providers from spending billions to prop up the fading legacy copper networks of the past.

Pai says his FCC, like Flying Dog Brewery CEO Jim Caruso, is "pro-free enterprise and pro-consumer choice, which he prefers to the (broad-brush, usually vaguely pejorative) "pro-business" brand.

"In almost two-thirds of our nation’s metropolitan areas, more businesses died than were born in 2014," he said. "And then consider the fact that from 1977 to 2007, there wasn’t a single year where that was true in more than one-quarter of our metropolitan areas. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that this disturbing trend is solely the result of excessive regulation. What I am saying is that the dramatic slowdown in new business formation is a serious concern. If we want to reverse this trend, we need rules that encourage entrepreneurship, rather than holding it back."

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.