WASHINGTON, D.C. — If broadcast media C-Suite executives thought the 2018 Quadrennial Review of FCC Ownership Rules would take center stage at the agency’s first House oversight hearing of the 116th Congress, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, along with Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, on Monday focused their opening statements to the Energy and Commerce Committee Communications and Technology Subcommittee on broadband access, spectrum allocation for 5G technology, and robocalls.
Equally focused on broadband and technology was the third Republican member of the Commission, Brendan Carr.
That’s not to suggest Democratic members of the FCC weren’t similarly focused on broadband issues. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel discussed maternal mortality and the use of a wireless gateway of a woman in Northeast Arkansas to transmit vital health stats to her health care providers. There was just one problem: The patient had no wireless service at home, so every day she would drive to the top of a hill a mile away where she could pick up a signal and send the data from the WiFi-enabled machines.
The future of broadband and 5G will have vitally important implications on broadcast TV and radio, and thus such stories are of high interest to C-Suiters looking at digital growth to further their consumer reach and augment their advertising revenue.
To that end, Rosenworcel criticized her Republican colleagues. “Too often this agency has acted at the behest of the largest corporate forces that surround us, shortchanging the American public,” she lamented.
For the newest Commissioner, Democrat Geoffrey Starks, “The future is already here. It is just not evenly distributed.” He used “wise words” that accurately frame the state of the nation’s digital divide.
The deployment of 5G excites Starks, but the future hasn’t come to more than 24 million Americans without access to broadband.
After 35 minutes of opening statements, Member questions began, with Subcommittee Chair Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) offering a series of yes or no questions to Chairman Pai.
It didn’t go well, with Pai responding to a question on mobile carriers sharing customers’ location data. Doyle asked if this practice has stopped. Pai responded that, while he appreciated the question, he can’t comment on a pending law enforcement investigation.
Doyle pressed on nevertheless, with Pai refusing to answer his queries.
“I find your answers to these questions, given the time that has elapsed, and the seriousness of this issue, is wholly insufficient,” Doyle said. “This committee expects you to do more than just sit on your hands.”
Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-Ohio) then took to questions, again focused on broadband and the lack of accuracy of maps reflecting where service is lacking.
TRUMP PRESS ATTACKS QUERIED
Democrat Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) used his time to note how President Trump is bashing the press via Twitter and how Pai would protect a free and independent press. He, along with all Commissioners, were asked if they agreed with the statement that “the press is truly enemy of the people.”
McNerney requested a yes or no response. Pai refused, instead responding that it was “not language that I would or have used.”
O’Rielly abided by the request, responding “no.”
Carr noted that he had repeatedly made his views clear on the matter on the First Amendment, but would not say anything further.
Rosenworcel’s response? “Absolutely not.”
And Starks? “I agree that this is an easy choice. Absolutely not.”
Among other topics discussed was a FCC diversity reboot, first reported Tuesday by RBR+TVBR. This saw New York Democratic House Member Yvette Clarke, who represents New York’s ninth district, comprised of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, urge Chairman Pai use her time on Wednesday morning to urge the Commission to reinstate practices to collect data on broadcast workforce diversity.
— Adam R Jacobson reported on this story from Boca Raton, Fla., supplemented with dispatches from RBR+TVBR Washington