FCC nominees move through Commerce Committee


Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai met with the Senate Commerce Committee, a key stop on the road to the offices on the FCC 8th Floor they’ve been nominated to fill. Such an event is not one in which nominees are known to stake out controversial positions – but within the non-contentious tone of their opening statements, Rosenworcel managed to sound like the Democrat, and Pai the Republican.

Each received strong endorsements from the Committee’s leaders, Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

Both nominees said they were honored to be given the opportunity.

Broadcast was but a small part of the proceeding. Mention of the Fairness Doctrine was but one more indication that it is basically a dead issue; a senator from Minnesota asked that television stations along the Canadian border are protected in any incentive auction program; and a senator from New Jersey brought up questions about that state’s unique broadcast challenges. Late in the proceeding, Rockefeller brought up the topic of indecent content.

Many of the senators, as usual, used the proceeding more to make statements than to ask questions.

Rosenworcel said that serving the Committee for five years on communications matters may have prepared her to sit at the panelist’s table, but it was still an odd feeling. She acknowledged the importance of communications companies when it comes to creating good jobs, and said broadband is a key to the future. She noted the difficulty of keeping law and regulation in sync with the rapidly changing business. She advocated service for everyone – urban, rural and everything in between – indicated fierce dedication to consumer protection, and cited the need to help parents and children navigate the digital world. She promised to listen to all stakeholders.

Pai also promised to listen carefully to all sides. He said that the vast improvements in communications service since he was a child were thanks to private companies, with enlightened regulatory assistance. He said the FCC’s job is to promote competition and innovation. He also noted his rural roots, and noted how important access to communications is for all citizens – and added that the communications industry has offered an explosion of content and useful devices. He said his goal was to evaluate issues carefully, stay within congressionally-mandated bounds and try to regulate as narrowly as possible.

Numerous questioning senators tried to pin down the nominees on specific issues. For the most part, they both sounded like typical candidates from their parties – while basically saying they would listen and act within the rules – and shaded their answers in a manner consistent with their opening statements.

Pai was asked if his recent hiring by a communications law firm would force him out of any proceedings – the law firm was involved in the AT&T/T-Mobile transaction. He said he hasn’t been there long, noted that his name came up as a potential FCC nominee almost at the same time he began, and that he has not represented any clients with business before the Commission.

Roy Blunt (R-MO) brought up the Fairness Doctrine, which he opposes. Pai also opposes. Pai noted that it is also opposed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, and Rosenworcel also indicated her opposition.

Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), from a broadcast-challenged state trapped between New York City and Philadelphia, asked about local programming on broadcast facilities. He got the nominess to agree to watch the situation set up by Gov. Chris Christie (R) when he either sold or LMA’d away state-owned public radio and television stations.

Am Klobuchar (D-MN) brought up concerns about incentive auctions as they pertain to stations along the Canadian border. The nominees promised to take those concerns into account.

In response to a question from Olympia Snowe (R-ME) Rosenworcel indicated support for a full spectrum inventory, over time, but said that for now the spectrum dashboard may have to suffice due to fast-moving issues. Pai agreed that knowledge of what’s there and how it’s being used. Rosenworcel said that it was not likely a good idea to resort to incentive auctions as a general rule, as is currently on the table in the television/wireless broadband issue, advocating considered and deliberate decisions instead.

Rockefeller brought up coarse program content, and said that FCC commissioners do have some recourse regarding indecent broadcasting. He also expressed misgivings about Facebook, which he said encouraged inappropriate juvenile behavior on the one hand and things like bullying and humiliation on the other, and in both cases felt something needs to be done despite cries of protecting the First Amendment. Pai said as a new parent he shares Rockefeller’s concerns, and said the FCC should do what it can to give parents knowledge of the tools they can use to protect their children in light of an uncertain legal framework. He said he’d of course honor any upcoming Supreme Court decision on indecency. Rosenworcel said programming is powerful and can be great, but said some is not so healthy. However, the legal landscape, she agreed, is in flux, adding that the FCC should encourage good programming and enable parents as best it can.

RBR-TVBR observation: There are still no signs that there is anything whatsoever standing between these nominees and the FCC – except Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who has still promised a hold on their nominations over an unrelated FCC matter. Stay tuned.