Today's first public meeting run by new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was characterized as much by the rhetoric outside it as by the statements from within. Chairman Pai stuck largely to script about controversial issues like the Open Internet Order and set-top box regulations. He said he wouldn't comment on plans either to enforce or not enforce the Open Internet Order beyond existing statements about exempting small service providers from its provisions.
It is widely assumed that Pai will work to undo the ruling, but the new chairman didn't share further thoughts on the issue at today's meeting beyond saying, "I favor a free and open Internet and I oppose Title II."
Pai and fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly have spoken out vehemently against the reclassification of Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. The ruling, which was passed under former Chairman Tom Wheeler's leadership in February 2015, gives the government, among other things, the ability to regulate broadband pricing where competition is lacking, although Chairman Wheeler and his associates emphasized repeatedly that they would not impose rate regulation or other pricing restrictions. (See FCC Vote Shows Net Neutrality Strains.)
One of those associates, former advisor to Chairman Wheeler Gigi Sohn, took to Twitter to express her dissatisfaction with Pai's statement today. Referring to the idea that Pai supports an open Internet but opposes Title II, Sohn tweeted: "Don't be fooled -- they are one in the same. Title II ensures that @FCC can protect consumers, competition & #netneutrality."
A small handful of protesters representing an organization called Fight for the Future gathered outside the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and held up signs in support of so-called net neutrality regulations.
On the topic of set-top regulation, several media outlets have taken note of the fact that Chairman Pai removed his predecessor's set-top proposal from a list of pending items for FCC consideration -- alongside the similarly controversial business data services proposal -- late last week. Pai addressed that move by saying, "This is one of the 23 items that we are reviewing. Standard operating procedure, when there's a change in administration, the new administration takes a look at the items that were pending under the previous administration. So we're still making the determination as to the appropriate steps forward."
That statement would seem to suggest that there is still an opportunity for the FCC to consider action on set-top competition, but since Pai has argued against government intervention in this area in the past, the odds are that set-top regulation truly is dead. (See The Set-Top's Not Dead, Set-Top Regulation Is and Comcast Brings Xfinity TV to Roku Boxes.)
Tom Wheeler tweeted his disapproval early Tuesday morning with some harsh words for Chairman Pai: "Removing set-top box rule victory for Cablewood over consumers. $200 million Pai Tax on helpless cable subs. Trump helping little guy??"
Meanwhile, on a different regulatory note, Pai did introduce one item of substance in today's meeting separate from minor procedural changes and statements on the previous FCC leadership's agenda. The chairman called for the formation of a new Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which will draft a "model code for broadband deployment" covering topics such as "local franchising, zoning, permitting and rights-of-way regulations."
The FCC will accept nominations to the BDAC group through February 15, and Pai noted that he is aiming for 15 members from a diverse cross-section of the community, including industry experts, representatives from consumer organizations and more. He is planning for the first BDAC meeting to be held in the spring.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading