Pai Expresses Concerns About Where FCC Is Headed on 'Big Issues'


He may be in the minority, but new Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai has some major changes he would like to see the agency make.

Those include setting a June 30, 2014, deadline for conducting incentive auctions of broadcast spectrum; creating an Office of Entrepreneurial Innovation; creating a Web page that would allow the public to track the FCC's compliance with statutory and internal deadlines; and setting those deadlines at nine months for resolving applications of reviews of its decisions and six months for waiver requests.

Pai was scheduled to make those proposals in a speech at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh Wednesday, according to a summary and copy of the speech supplied by his office. It is his first major speech as commissioner, and he was talking in bold and broad strokes in a speech that advertised that fact in the title: "The Path to a 21st Century FCC."

Pai is also pushing the FCC to accelerate the transition to Internet protocol delivery, calling for the creation of an IP Transition Task Force. He also wants the FCC to allow cable operators and competitive local phone companies to merge, something the cable industry has been pushing for.

Pai framed his proposals as a response to what he said was a "dreary" jobs picture in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, with fewer jobs than at any point until 1989, and a loss of 165,000 telecom jobs (15%) in the past three-and-a-half years alone.

He said shedding jobs in a sector with "the ubiquity of personal computers, the advent of the Internet, and the rise of smartphones," was unacceptable.

He said the FCC has contributed to that problem through inaction or delay. He said he was not looking for the FCC to "rush to regulate," but the FCC needed to move faster. He gave FCC chairman Julius Genachowski credit for reducing backlogs, but said much more needed to be done.

He also said he was concerned about where the FCC has headed "on the big issues," noting that is partly because of anachronistic laws the commission is required to enforce. But he also says there is reluctance on the FCC to tackle many "big ticket" issues, which he says is understandable given the constituencies in play. But he said the commission needs to make the tough calls and move on.

Pai says his proposed new Office of Entrepreneurial Innovation could make innovation an institutional priority. He proposes remaking the current Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis into that new office, with resources from the Wireless Telecom Bureau and the Office of Engineering and Technology.

Pai called for swifter action on freeing up mobile broadband. He praised the National Broadband Plan goals of freeing up 500 MHz over 10 years and 300 MHz over five, but said that the plan is behind schedule given that no new spectrum had been freed up that could be effectively used for wireless broadband. "The timeline set forth in the National Broadband Plan called for holding at least two major auctions of some of the spectrum it identified by 2011," he said. "We haven't done this. Indeed, the last major auction that we conducted for wireless broadband spectrum took place back in 2008. The timeline also called for the FCC to issue orders in 2010 and 2011 making available 90 MHz of spectrum currently used by satellite providers for terrestrial wireless broadband. But it is now 2012, and none of that spectrum can be used in that manner. If we stay on our present course, we cannot meet the targets of the National Broadband Plan."

Pai called for launching the incentive auction rulemaking process this fall -- Genachowski has already set that goal -- and said it should set a deadline for conducting both auctions "no later than June 30, 2014."

Pai called his speech the beginning of a conversation, and he clearly had a lot to say.