New Year, New FCC

Jessica Rosenworcel
Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is among the top candidates to replace outgoing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. (Image credit: FCC)

SAN FRANCISCO—Soon after the 2020 election was called for Joe Biden, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to step down from the FCC. The new administration will give Democrats a new opening to work on their priorities, which will likely include net-neutrality rules, universal broadband access and a perhaps a redirection of the Pai-led Modernization of Media Regulation initiatives, whose goal is to reduce what the commission has called unnecessary regulation.

Or, as Chris Lewis with Public Knowledge put it: a change in approach is drastically needed by the new FCC. 

“If the COVID pandemic taught us anything, it’s just how disastrous it has been to have an FCC that has removed its own authority over broadband,” said Lewis who is president and CEO of the public interest group. 

Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is considered a candidate to replace Pai, as is Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, former Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who stepped in as acting chairwoman during the Obama administration, and Gigi Sohn, former advisor to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. 

One of the most important issues facing the industry now is redefining the video marketplace so that there is a clear recognition of the state of competition.  

“Broadcasters not only compete with themselves, but also big tech, big telecom, big cable, etc.,” Hoffman said. “It is preposterous to keep regs based on a quaint notion of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and new networks, when the market is so much more, with much bigger players.” 

But Rob McDowell, former FCC commissioner and now a partner with Cooley LLC, said broadcasters will have to accept the fact that a Biden-Harris FCC is not likely to give them regulatory relief as they face more competition from internet companies. 

“However, the Supreme Court will rule in the Prometheus appeal before the end of June and that could restore the FCC’s 2017 media ownership order, which relaxed rules such as regarding combinations of the two of top four stations in a market,” he said. “If that’s the case, look for some broadcasters to take advantage of such opportunities.”

Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.