FCC Commissioner looks to speed up FCC


Ajit PaiRepublican Ajit Pai, the newest FCC Commissioner, believes the communications sector can be a job generator if the FCC will get out of its way, and to that end, he has a few proposals.

Among his proposals are swift action on incentive auctions of spectrum in the television space so that they may begin by 6/30/14.

He outlined his ideas during the course of a speech entitled, “Unlocking Investment and Innovation in the Digital Age: The Path to a 21st-Century FCC” delivered at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.

Legendary radio station KDKA received a shout-out – Pai said part of the reason he made his first major speech as a commissioner in Pittsburgh is because that’s where KDKA became the first commercial broadcast station.

In the course of his remarks, he noted that the telecommunications sector has lost 165K jobs over the last three-and-a-half years, and said it was unacceptable.

“In order to solve our growth problem,” he said, “we must first identify its causes. So during my first two months in office, I have spent much of my time trying to do just that.”

Although many of the problems facing communications companies are beyond the FCC’s power to control, he said the FCC does contribute two growth inhibitors: regulatory uncertainty and strategic uncertainty. In the first case, private companies worry about the uncertainty of gaining necessary FCC approvals or timely decisions; in the second, they worry about the direction the FCC will takes its policy-making in the future.

Pai summarized a set of remedies.

The FCC should be as nimble as the industry it oversees.
* Establish an Office of Entrepreneurial Innovation, charged with reviewing proposals for new technologies and services within one year, consistent with section 7 of the Communications Act.
* Enhance transparency by creating centralized webpage to keep track of FCC’s compliance with statutory and internal deadlines.
* Establish nine-month deadline to resolve applications for review.
* Establish six-month deadline to resolve waiver requests.

The FCC should prioritize the removal of regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.
* Establish an IP Transition Task Force to create recommendations within nine months on how the FCC can accelerate the transition to an IP world.
* Forbear from applying section 652 to allow pro-competitive mergers between CLECs and cable operators.
* Ensure USF support is predictable.

Move forward quickly with Phase II of the Connect America Fund for price-cap carriers and wireless providers.

Rethink the yearly adjustment of spending limits on rate-of-return carriers.

Settle the nine-year-old contributions reform proceeding.

The FCC should accelerate its efforts to allocate additional spectrum for mobile broadband.
* An “all of the above” approach is needed for spectrum policy.
* Adopt rules for AWS-4 by September 2012.
* Adopt rules to facilitate broadband in the WCS spectrum by August 2012.
* Commence rulemaking on incentive auctions in fall 2012 and set a deadline to conduct the auctions by June 30, 2014.

RBR-TVBR observation: Good luck with that auction deadline. Setting it is one thing; hitting it is something entirely different. Controversial FCC decisions have a way of finding themselves in court for prolonged periods of time.

Public interest watchdogs, often with very limited funding, have had major successes undoing the FCC’s work. Do you think Michael Powell was worried about a tiny LPFM advocacy called Prometheus Radio Project when he tried to loosen ownership rules back in 2003? Much of Powell’s work is still undone, and the court case that undid it is named after Prometheus.

The topic of incentive auctions has the potential of pitting industry v. industry – we’re talking much larger bank accounts to fund a platoon of attorneys to tie the issue into legal knots.
We will be very surprised indeed if the incentive auction proposal somehow makes it to the auctioneer’s dais without a little side trip to the circuit court system.

Even without that, from what we’ve seen 6/30/14 is an extremely optimistic deadline.

One more thing – while uncertainty may lead to an unwillingness to invest and theoretically cost jobs, the execution of a merger often leads to the actual loss of jobs. If deals should include a cost/benefit analysis, maybe since it’s such a hot topic there should also be a job gain/job loss analysis as well.