Pai: FCC Has Made No Meaningful Progress On Process Reforms

In Pittsburgh Speech, Also Calls on FCC to Set Schedule for Incentive Auctions or Concede it will Need to Mave Date
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FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said Thursday that the commission still had work to do on the mobile spectrum allocation and process reform fronts. He also said the FCC either needs to set an internal schedule for various elements required for holding a broadcast incentive auction in 2014, or concede it will need to move that goalpost.

That is according to a copy of a speech commissioner Pai was giving in Pittsburgh Thursday (July 25), the city where he delivered his first speech as FCC Commissioner a year ago.

In that first speech, he said the FCC needed to accelerate efforts to allocate spectrum for mobile broadband; remove regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment; and be "as nimble as the industry we oversee."

Pai said that the FCC had not made "any meaningful process reforms" over the past 12 months since his first speech calling for them. He conceded that some of those reforms would take congressional action—coincidentally the House Communications Subcommittee on a voice vote Thursday favorably reported two FCC process reform bills to the full committee.

"I understand that there will be times when my colleagues and I will disagree. And when we disagree, I understand that I’ll generally draw the short end of the stick," he said. "But FCC responsiveness shouldn’t be a majority-or-minority, Republican-or-Democrat issue. Process reform isn’t partisan. Whether the matter before us involves a Fortune 500 company, a small start-up, a public interest group or an individual consumer, the Commission should respond promptly. Parties might not like the answer that we give them. But they deserve an answer. As one person said to me, “Tell me yes, tell me no, but just tell me.”

On the spectrum front, Pai said, the FCC had achieved the first three steps he had outlined, adopt and revise rules for the AWS-4 and WCS spectrum bands and launch the incentive auction rulemaking. But he said the FCC still needed to do four things soon: 1) establish rules by the end of the year for freeing 195 MHz in the 5 GHz band (the Clyburn FCC this week began that process); begin an auction of H block spectrum by January 14, 2014 (which the FCC's Wireless Bureau has proposed); 3) keep the pedal to the metal on the incentive auction by establishing a schedule for meeting a 2014 auction goal. "If there is a realistic schedule that will allow us to conduct the incentive auction next year, we should outline it and try to follow it as best we can," he says. "If there isn’t, then we should admit that our goal has fallen out of reach and set a new target"; and 4) clear federal users out of the 1755-1780 band (the commission's Wireless Bureau has also just issued auction rules for that and other spectrum, though it proposes allowing sharing of the band if clearing is infeasible).

Pai says clearing off those federal users is a matter of political will. "We won the Cold War in the 1980s without firing a shot. And we refused to say it was over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, as John Belushi reminded us in Animal House. Surely, we have the capacity as a nation to clear at least 25 MHz of spectrum," he said.

On the regulatory barriers front, Pai put in a plug for immediately launching an all-IP pilot program, which begins with issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking to work out the specifics.

He calls those trials a necessary first step in the IP transition. The FCC in May issued a public notice setting up what it called "real world trials" of all-IP nets, though that was short of the green light AT&T was looking for when it proposed creating the all-IP test markets to gauge the impact of the transition from traditional copper wire networks.