Skip to main content

Senate Commerce Committee Leadership Diverges on Pai Portrait

There was quite a divergence in the handicapping of the new FCC chairman—Ajit Pai—by the chair and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

That came in opening statements for the Senate Commerce Committee FCC oversight hearing, the first in that committee in six years chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) pointed out, adding: "A lot has changed since then."

"The FCC’s first actions under Chairman Pai were to make much needed reforms to improve the agency’s processes and transparency," said Thune. "Counter to the trend of Chairman Pai’s recent predecessors, who often sought to amass as much power in the chairman’s office as they could, these simple steps instead empower the public and the other commissioners."

As to the chairman's early moves to roll back some of his predecessor's regs, Thune was also pleased. "While I am sure there are other actions that may need to be revisited, I do think we need to hit reset on both of these items. And I’m glad to see the FCC has already started that process by staying certain parts of the rules that were set to go into effect last week."

When it was Bill Nelson's (D-Fla.) turn, he painted a much different picture, praising Pai's Democratic predecessor, who he said had had consumers' backs and saying Pai had, in only a few weeks: 

"1) Acted to prevent millions of broadband subscribers from receiving key information about the rates, terms, and conditions of their service; 2) Acted to guarantee that broadband subscribers will have less protections with respect to the security of their online data, while promising to further weaken the duties broadband providers owe to protect the web browsing history and other personal information of their paying subscribers; 3) Threatened the expansion of broadband into the homes of low-income Americans by limiting the effectiveness of new Lifeline program reforms; and 4) formally rescinded an FCC staff report detailing the implementation of the agency’s comprehensive E-Rate modernization effort," an effort Nelson said "sent shock waves through schools and the libraries across the nation."

Separately, a dozen Democratic Senators, including members of the committee, wrote Pai this week urging him to preserve the program.

Roslyn Layton, who was a member of the Trump FCC transition team, agreed with Thune.

“Today’s oversight hearing confirms the new FCC, under the leadership of Chairman Pai, is finally prioritizing greater economic competitiveness and support for the everyday American consumer," she said in a statement following the hearing. "By bringing economics and consumers back to the central focus of the agency, the chairman and commissioners are encouraging bipartisanship and practical rulemakings that will allow our burgeoning U.S. telecommunications sector to reach new levels of competition and innovation.”