During a speech Wednesday at the Hudson Institute, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled plans for the creation of a new Office of Economics and Data (OED) at the FCC that would invest the agency’s economists with the role of injecting “strategic long-term thinking into the FCC’s processes.”
Pai told his audience that he would ask the FCC’s economists to form a working group that would consult with FCC Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Mignon Clyburn in developing plans for the OED. Stating his goal of having the OED “up and running by the end of the year,” Pai said the working group would decide which FCC staff members should be a part of the OED, how the OED should be structured, and the powers and responsibilities of that office. Pai also explained that his purpose is to address four deficiencies in the FCC’s current approach to using “optimally” its “first rate” economists. These deficiencies include: (1) the “ad hoc” fashion in which the expertise of the FCC’s economists is applied to the agency’s policy work, (2) the fact that FCC economists “work in siloes” within separate bureaus and offices, (3) the absence of effective cost-benefit analysis at the FCC which often results in the agency’s public interest standard being treated as “a free pass to adopt rules without a meaningful attempt to determine benefits,” and (4) the FCC’s poor usage of data.
While voicing his belief that the OED could be formed without prior Congressional approval, Pai noted that the OED could improve the FCC’s long-term strategic thinking by assessing emerging issues (such as the Internet of Things and the densification of cellular networks) and their potential impact on the industry, consumers and the regulatory and economic environments. Pai further observed that the OED could play an important role in assessing or resolving “persistent” issues that include the economic value of federal spectrum assets and the commercial value of unlicensed spectrum.
Terming Pai’s plan as “laudable and consistent with my calls for similar action,” Commissioner O’Rielly predicted that “this important structural change will help unite agency economists and bring greater, efficiency, cohesion and consistency to their work.” As Wireless Infrastructure Association President and former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein observed that “the wireless infrastructure industry is driven by data, and we believe that combining economic experts with other data professionals will lead to better rulemaking and policy decisions from the FCC,” Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of rural broadband association NTCA, proclaimed: “we are . . . delighted to see Chairman Pai place a greater emphasis on meaningful economic analysis as part of FCC policymaking.”