New FCC chief gets to work cutting back regs

New FCC chief gets to work cutting back regs
© Greg Nash

The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vowed to cut back industry regulations at his first open meeting on Tuesday and led the agency in scrapping two rules.

Ajit Pai vowed to reduce regulatory "barriers" to growth and innovation and prioritize reducing the digital divide.

But Pai, a Republican, who was promoted from commissioner to the agency's top spot by President Trump last week, also said he hadn't made a decision on one of the FCC's signature rules: net neutrality.

Speaking to reporters at the meeting, Pai dodged questions regarding the rule.

“I favor a free and open internet, and I oppose Title II," he said. Title II is one of the key elements of net neutrality, reclassifying broadband as a utility and allowing the FCC to enforce the rules. Pai has long been a critic of net neutrality and in December said he wanted to review the rules. Top members of Trump's FCC transition team are critics of the internet rule.

Pai, though, quickly got to work on other regulations. The FCC board on Tuesday voted to eliminate two public filing requirements. One rule required television and broadcast stations to keep physical copies of letters from "viewers and listeners" and make them available. Another required “cable operators to maintain and allow public inspection of the location of a cable system’s principal headend.”

Pai cited the ease of digital records and the need to reduce needless regulation. Fellow Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly and Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn both voted in favor of scrapping the rules.

“While physical letters from viewers today may not play the role they once did, this does not lessen the importance of the public having a direct means to communicate with their local broadcaster,” Clyburn said in her opening statement. “Thankfully, nothing in this Order changes that.”

On Monday night, ahead of the meeting, Pai also dropped FCC proposals to reform the television set-top box market.

That proposal from former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler had drawn criticism from telecom and cable companies. The proposal would have allowed other tech companies such as Apple or Google to access cable content and provide it to consumers through their own devices, such as Apple TV or Google Chromecast.

Earlier in January, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnEquifax breach is the wake-up call we expected Tennessee governor considering Senate run Five major potential Senate candidates MORE (R-Tenn.), chairwoman of the communications and technology subcommittee, penned a letter to Pai asking him to drop the item.

Wheeler fired off a tweet criticizing Pai’s decision to drop the proposal on Tuesday morning before the meeting, saying that the decision would not help consumer interests.

On Friday, Pai also withdrew proposals to reform the market for business data services, which provide large-scale internet connections to companies.

The proposal would have capped fees for businesses, hospitals and schools who regularly use large amounts of data.

— This story was updated at 1:50 p.m.