Testifying at their Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, former FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and FCC Commissioner-designate Brendan Carr won a positive reception from lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle as they offered their views on topics ranging from the FCC’s proposal to roll back Title II classification of broadband services to the introduction of fifth-generation (5G) wireless services in the aftermath of the recentlyconcluded incentive auction.
Although Pai did not require confirmation hearings in connection with his promotion to the FCC’s chairmanship in January, he is now undergoing the confirmation process for an additional five-year term, as his previous term as FCC commissioner expired last year. If confirmed, Rosenworcel—a Democrat—would return to the FCC seat she was forced to vacate in January when the 114th Congress adjourned without conducting a vote on her previous, long-pending nomination to a second FCC term. Carr, a Republican and former legal advisor to Pai who was recently promoted to the rank of FCC General Counsel, would serve the remaining portion of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s term plus an additional five-year term that would expire in June 2023.
In his opening statement, Carr stressed that “the public interest is best served by vigorous competition in the marketplace,” noting that, whenever marketplace failures arise that harm consumers and competition, the FCC “must take action consistent with the scope of our authority and the direction provided by Congress.” Declaring that values of public safety, universal service, consumer protection and competition “informed my work at the Commission in the past,” Rosenworcel told the Senate panel “I am proud to have worked on spectrum policies—for licensed and unlicensed airwaves—that have made this country’s wireless markets competitive, innovative and strong.” Rosenworcel acknowledged however, that “there is more work to be done” which includes managing the effects of the incentive auction process on local television broadcasters and “building on our wireless success with the next generation of mobile service known as 5G.”
Meanwhile, with respect to the post-incentive auction channel repacking process, Pai confirmed that the FCC has received requests from broadcasters seeking more than $2.1 billion to reimburse costs associated with the relocation of affected broadcast station facilities. Because these requests exceed the $1.75 billion allocated by Congress for broadcast repacking expenses, Pai said: “I would expect that it would be necessary, if broadcasters are to be held harmless in this repack, that Congress would have to provide additional funding.” Pai also admitted that he did not know whether the 39-month timetable established by the FCC for completion of the post-incentive auction channel transition would be sufficient but that he would notify Congress if any issues arise.