Pai Takes Over FCC's 'Big Chair'

In a collegial and brief first meeting, FCC chairman Ajit Pai presided over a unanimous vote to remove some public filing requirements from broadcasters and cable operators, and announced the creation of a new committee to draft a model code for broadband deployment, part of his Digital Empowerment Agenda.

In a press conference afterward, Pai said he was still reviewing the set-top box item, which has been pulled from circulation for a commission vote, and other issues left over from his predecessor, Tom Wheeler. He would not comment on what actions he might take on rolling back the FCC's Open Internet order, besides saying he supported an open Internet and opposed reclassification of ISPs under Title II.

He also would not comment on President Donald Trump's executive order requiring two regulations on the books to be axed for every one added, beyond saying he understood it did not apply to independent agencies but that he would, as promised, look to clear away regulations he thought were not in the public interest and did not spur competition and innovation.

In fact, Pai deferred answers on a number of questions, saying it was his first week or so in the "big chair" and he did not plan on making any news.

He said the FCC's new broadband deployment committee will provide advice on identifying and overcoming regulatory barriers, including those pertaining to zoning, rights of way and permitting. He said public input would be welcomed.

RELATED: Pai Prioritizes Closing Digital Divide

Pai said red tape can make the task of deployment harder. The committee, dubbed the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, will hold its first meeting in the spring, the chairman said.

The chairman said he expected there would be 15 members on the committee drawn from industry, public advocacy groups and others.

The single agenda item was a vote to no longer require TV stations to post letters and e-mails from the public in their station files and to relieve cable operators of the obligation to publicize the location of their principle headend, which MVPDs had said was a potential security risk.

Cable operators no longer have to make their headend location public, though they must still make it available to the FCC and TV stations. The requirement dates from the FCC's 1993 implementation of must-carry/retrans rules.

Because of privacy concerns, public comments sent to broadcast stations cannot be included in the online version of those public files, so that meant broadcasters would have to maintain hard files at the station as well as meet the online requirement.

With that unanimous FCC vote, stations no longer have to keep a local file, or as the chairman said, the clunky cabinets can now go. Pai pointed out that viewers can still contact the stations, or the FCC, which will review those comments when station licenses come up for renewal.

"In all, this action reduces regulatory burdens on commercial broadcasters and cable operators without adversely affecting the public interest," said the chairman.

"NAB applauds the FCC for its bipartisan decision to eliminate archaic correspondence file requirements and we thank Commissioner O'Rielly for his leadership on this issue," said NAB EVP of communications Dennis Wharton. "The order serves as a strong demonstration of Chairman Pai's commitment to curtailing burdensome regulations that hinder broadcasters' ability to operate, create jobs and serve the public interest."

“We welcome and commend Chairman Pai on his announcement of a Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee to help guide his Digital Empowerment Agenda," said INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering. "We must make broadband deployment a national priority, as new networks create jobs, boost education and unleash the future."

Benton Foundation director of policy Amina Fazlullah welcomed the creation of the advisory committee and said the group was pleased with Pai's priority on broadband deployment, a priority Benton shares.

"Apparently, the advisory committee will be asked to promote broadband deployment through deregulation,” Fazlullah said in a statement. “Too often, communities lack local broadband choices because they are saddled with state or other regulations that prevent the investment in and delivery of broadband. We should eliminate job-killing broadband regulations that stifle community broadband investment and local economic growth to enable every American, regardless of where they live, to take full advantage of local broadband investments, public-private partnerships, and new community broadband options.”

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.