Senate Commerce Committee Conducts FCC Oversight

Members of a key Senate panel this week had the opportunity to ask questions of FCC leaders on a host of issues, including a number related to the Title II “net neutrality” debate, spectrum concerns, and other media issues.

Regarding the contentious Restoring Internet Freedom order that went into effect in June, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted that despite the alarms of the critics, the internet successfully transitioned back to the pre-2015 light touch environment. “At the time that the Restoring Internet Freedom Order was adopted, there were many hysterical predictions of doom. We were told that it would be the destruction of the internet, or as some outlets put it, ‘the end of the internet as we know it,’” he said. “It has now been 67 days since the repeal of the previous Administration’s utility-style Internet regulations took effect. Far from ending or being delivered one word at a time, the internet remains open and free.”

On another matter, Chairmain Pai was asked by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) about the C-Band spectrum proceeding and concerns for current incumbents, which includes those that provide downlinks for broadcasters.  Pai noted ways they have sought to help incumbents participate in the process so they are treated fairly. He noted the FCC “can't protect them if we don't know they're there.” Blunt urged him to make sure the agency takes steps not to harm those who have already invested in that area.

On issues of freedom, Chairman Pai made special effort to ensure the committee knew that it made its recent enforcement decision to fine and suspend a Texas radio station connected to the highly controversial Alex Jones not based on a review of programming content, but because the station was an unlicensed pirate operation. Pai and his fellow commissioners were also asked to affirm their support for the First Amendment freedom of the press.  While not all made statements that satisfied Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), all did indeed affirm the First Amendment. Commissioner Brendan Carr said, “The First Amendment operates as a restraint on the government, that we don't put a thumb on the scale in favor of one speaker or the other. The purpose of the First Amendment is to encourage robust, perhaps rough in some situations, discourse.”

Notably, on Thursday the full Senate unanimously passed a resolution authored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on press freedom. In it, the Senate affirmed the vital role of the press in our democracy and that it “is not the enemy of the people.” The resolution also said, “It is the sense of the Senate that it is the sworn responsibility of all who serve the United States by taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States to uphold, cherish, and protect the entire Constitution, including the freedom of the press.”

Video and testimony from the full Senate hearing is here.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: August 17, 2018

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