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Pai Tells Senate He Won't Prejudge Sec. 230 Petition

Ajit Pai

Ajit Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says he will follow the facts and the law, but will not prejudge a petition being filed by the Trump Administration seeking the FCC's help in regulating social media. He also would not say whether he thought the Sec. 230 exemption from civil liability for third-party postings needed reforming, as the petition seeks. His colleagues were not simmilarly reticent. 

Pai was grilled by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (R-S.D.), and then probed by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), on his view both om whether Sec. 230 reform is warranted, and whether Congress would be the better venue for any change, if necessary. 

Sen. John Thune

Sen. John Thune

Under questioning by Thune, all the commissioners but Pai said they thought Sec. 230 was ripe for reform-the chairman declined to "opine" before he saw the petition, but also said he had not formed an opinion on the issue--and that Congress, not the FCC, was the best place to do that, though Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested the FCC and Justice also had roles. 

Blumenthal said he thought the order was an assault on the credibility and legitimacy of the First Amendment and the FCC, "directing you to do something that you simply do not have the authority to do." 

He said that if Pai cared about his agency, its integrity and its authority, "you will stand up for it and avoid the President's effort to engage you in retailiating against his political rivals and against tech companies who happen to be on the other side of issues from him." 

Pai said he could not "dispel the regulatory overhang" because he had not seen the petition, after which he would follow the facts and the law. 

Sen. Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz

But when asked by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), all the commissioners agreed Big Tech had a transparency problem, though Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the key would be for the FCC to see the petition as quickly as possible so it did not become an overhang on the election. 

Related: Starks Tells NTIA to Bring On Petition

Com=missioner Geoffrey Starks

Com=missioner Geoffrey Starks

Starks has called on the Trump Administration to file the petition sooner than it initially signaled, but also signaled himself he does not think the FCC has the authority to do what the President Wants. 

Cruz said if the FCC could simply provide for more transparency in terms of how speech was being blocked or throttled by edge providers it would "transform" the ability to address what he said was the problem of censorship of conservative speech.