The FCC Chairman’s View On ‘Modernizing Our Regulations’


“One of the most powerful forces in government is inertia,” says FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Rules that get on the books stay on the books, sometimes long after the rationale that underlay their adoption is gone.”

And, with those words, the head of the Federal Communications Commission laid out his rationale for Thursday’s revelation of an actual order set for introduction at its November Open Meeting that would bring major changes to the agency’s media ownership rules.

With full details expected today (10/26), Pai said during Wednesday’s House Subcommittee on Communications FCC oversight hearing that he’s drafted legislation that would do away with rules that prohibit one company from owning both a newspaper and radio or TV station in the same market; rules that limit radio and TV ownership in the same market; say farewell to the “eight voices test” used for ownership of two TV stations; and jettison the joint sales agreement (JSA) rules for attribution.

Additionally, Pai would keep the market “Top 4” ratings-driven rule for ownership of two stations in the same DMA, but has opened up this rule for a case-by-case review — something that, if passed, could clog up the FCC with considerable judgment calls should the expect flood of Asset Purchase Agreements get filed as a result of a likely 3-2 OK of Pai’s plan.

To encourage multicultural ownership, Pai’s rule changes would also — “finally, finally” — create an incubator program for new station licensees.

In prepared testimony delivered by Pai, he said, “In most cases, the rules simply don’t reflect the marketplace of today; and in some, they affirmatively harm consumers and competition by diverting investment and impeding innovation.”

He continued, “Regulatory inertia no longer has purchase at the FCC. We have actively sought to repeal and revise outdated rules. Several months ago, for instance, we started a Media Modernization Regulatory Initiative. We observed that there are over 1,000 pages of regulations that apply to the media sector alone and asked the public to identify any that ought to be eliminated or streamlined. The response was overwhelming, so much so that beginning in September, and for the foreseeable future, the FCC will vote every month on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing these regulations.”

Editor’s Note: An original version of this story posted late Wednesday incorrectly noted that Pai’s order would be a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. An update was made at 9:20am ET Thursday to correct the error.