Promise Made, Tower Climbed

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai can now claim to be a towering figure in the regulatory community. And he has the pictures to prove it, having made good on a promise made to one House Republican in an oversight hearing.

In that hearing, Rep. Pete Olsen (R-Tex.) chided the chairman that Pai’s fellow commissioner, Brendan Carr, had climbed a cell tower: Carr has been charged by Pai with overseeing the effort to clear away obstacles to network buildouts. “[D]on’t you think you should follow his lead and climb up a cell tower as well?” Olson asked Pai.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai goes the distance--vertically.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai goes the distance--vertically.

Pai joked that Carr was younger and more “nimble,” but said he would “put my own life at risk and ascend, perhaps, a 10-foot tower of a small cell in Houston.” Olson suggested he might join him.

The chairman did quite a few feet better than that, climbing a 131-foot tower in Colorado last week after a delay for a quickly passing hailstorm, according to Brian Hart, head of the FCC’s Office of Media Relations, who accompanied Pai on a Western road trip.

“I just can’t figure why in the hail they won’t let the chairman @AjitPaiFCC climb the tower!,” Hart jokingly tweeted, accompanied by video of the storm. “Many thanks to @NATEsafety, @SBAComm, and everyone who worked hard to get this tower climb ready despite the weather change up.”

The weather cleared quickly and Pai ultimately scaled the tower, according to his own tweeted account.

“Climbing the tower was an incredible experience,” Pai told The Wire. “Aside from the awe-inspiring views and the somewhat terrifying heights (it may have been 131 feet but felt like 1,000), it gave me a first-hand appreciation of what it takes to build and maintain wireless infrastructure. I’m also grateful for the high priority that the National Association of Tower Erectors and tower companies place on worker safety. As American consumers rely increasingly on wireless services, it’s ever more important for the FCC to have forward-thinking policies to promote wireless infrastructure, including towers like the one I survived, er, surmounted.”

Olson suggested to The Wire that there would be more climbing to the story.

“His decision to follow through proves that he is a man of his word and that he is committed to doing whatever is necessary to make sure the FCC is fully informed,” Olson said in an email. “I have a few cell towers in TX-22 [Olson’s district] in mind. As soon as my schedule permits, I look forward to going up and comparing notes with chairman Pai.”

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.