Pai Presides Over First FCC Meeting as Chair

WASHINGTON—Ajit Pai saved some trees, set forth a broadband deployment agenda and held a brief but free-ranging press conference at his first general meeting as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

By a 3-0 vote, Pai and his colleagues, Democrat Mignon Clyburn and Republican Michael O’Rielly, eliminated the requirement that broadcasters include public correspondence in their public inspection files.

“Listeners can continue to communicate with stations by email, letter, social media or other means,” a Media Bureau staff member noted in presenting the item. “The only change is the stations no longer have to retain them and make them available.”

The commission voted in 2012 to move TV station public inspection files from hard copy records to an online database. The move was completed in July of 2014. Radio, cable and satellite were likewise compelled last year.

Clyburn said of four broadcasters she spoke with in Nashville last September told her they get “rarely if any” requests for their public inspection files. O’Rielly, who led the charge on the item, thanked the Media Bureau for “reducing unnecessary burdens that can best be served by other means.” Pai talked about visiting his childhood radio station, KKOW-FM in Pittsburg, Kans., a few years ago and seeing “an imposing series of huge file cabinets, each filled with folders, each folder filled with paper”—the station’s public inspection file.

The National Association of Broadcasters issued a high-five:

“NAB applauds the FCC for its bipartisan decision to eliminate archaic correspondence file requirements and we thank Commissioner O’Rielly for his leadership on this issue. The order serves as a strong demonstration of chairman Pai’s commitment to curtailing burdensome regulations that hinder broadcasters’ ability to operate, create jobs and serve the public interest,” NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said in an emailed statement.

The same vote also eliminated the requirement that cable operators keep the designation and location of head-ends in their public files. They still have to make it available to the FCC to TV stations, and franchisors upon request, and they can still voluntarily keep the information public if they so wish.

With regard to broadband and the commission’s role, Pai declined to say if the commission would enforce network neutrality and referred instead to an order he is circulating among commissioners to waive the rules for wireless internet service providers with fewer than 250,000 customers for five years.

On the infrastructure front, he also announced the formation of a Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee to develop a “model code,” i.e., a template, for communities to use with perspective providers. The code will cover “topics like local franchising, zoning, permitting and rights-of-way regulations,” the commission said. A Public Notice with details was said to be forthcoming. “Interested members of the public” were encouraged to apply.

Pai later said he had “no higher priority than closing the digital divide.” He then took questions from reporters. (See, “Q&A: Pai Fields Reporter Questions.)

In a separate item, Pai was appointed Defense Commissioner to “[direct] the homeland security, national security and emergency preparedness, and defense activities of the commission.” His predecessors held a likewise designation.