Senate Panel Delves into FCC Issues, House Panel to Come

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee had the opportunity this week to interact on the record with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and former Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, as well as current FCC General Counsel Brendan Carr. All three have pending nominations for new terms as commissioners, and senators took the opportunity to ask questions ranging from the Title II “net neutrality” debate to the spectrum auction and a host of other subjects.

Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) were pronounced in their disagreement over the dangers of the 2015 Title II Order that Pai has laid the groundwork for rolling back. Lee called it “intrusive” and “heavy-handed” and said broadband investments have “plummeted.” Markey countered that there was “no factual basis” to say that, arguing that publicly traded internet service providers hadn’t said to their investors that Title II harmed them. Pai indicated there was an open proceeding to collect all manner of public input, though he noted that the notice of proposed rulemaking did cite some evidence that investment was down. For his part, Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) expressed appreciation for Pai pushing the “reset button” because the senator believes “the best way to provide long-term protections for the internet is for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation.”

Regarding the television repacking phase following the recently completed spectrum auction, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) highlighted cost estimates that eligible broadcasters will need more than $2 billion in reimbursement, surpassing the statutory set-aside of $1.75 billion. Pai affirmed that the agency expects costs to exceed the relocation fund’s current limit, so additional congressional action will be needed if broadcasters are to be fully covered.

As in a previous March hearing, several Democrat members of the committee raised President Trump’s icy relationship with some mainstream media outlets and sought assurances that the FCC would not be used to retaliate. In one exchange with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Pai, a longtime champion for freedom, replied, “First Amendment freedoms, including the freedom of the press, are critical…. And if I were ever asked by anyone in the administration to take retaliatory action, for instance, in a media regulatory proceeding, I would not do so.”

Chairman Pai will sit before another panel next week as he and current Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly interact with members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee's Communications Subcommittee on Tuesday.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: July 21, 2017

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