Appearing at a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing on Wednesday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and FCC Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Mignon Clyburn assured lawmakers that the FCC is committed to overseeing a smooth broadcast spectrum transition period in the wake of the incentive auction that will not impact viewer access to television channels or programs. Meanwhile, as Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced a joint resolution with the sponsorship of nearly two dozen Senate Republicans that would nullify broadband privacy rules adopted by the FCC last fall (see story below), Pai emphasized that the FCC’s decision last month to suspend certain rules prescribed by the broadband privacy order is intended to maintain “a level playing field” between broadband ISPs which are subject to the FCC’s rules and web companies that are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission.
In his opening statement, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) commended Pai’s focus on FCC process reform, asserting that the changes advocated by Pai “empower the public and the other commissioners.” Ranking committee member Bill Nelson (D-FL) countered that Pai’s recent actions on broadband privacy have weakened consumer privacy protections, transparency and data security. Thune also reminded the FCC’s commissioners and, particularly, Clyburn (the FCC’s lone Democrat), of the importance of not allowing the FCC “to fall below a functioning quorum,” as he pledged his committee’s best effort to move quickly on Pai’s nomination and on future White House nominees for the FCC’s two vacant seats.
As she assured Thune that nothing “has . . . been said or hinted at by me” that would suggest plans to resign from the FCC or to absent herself from FCC meetings before all FCC nominees are confirmed, Clyburn told ranking Senate Communications Subcommittee member Brian Schatz (D-HI) she would “support any effort” that ensures no consumer will lose access to local television broadcasting as a consequence of the post-incentive auction channel repacking process. Responding to Schatz’s request for a commitment from all three FCC commissioners that they will work to ensure no TV broadcaster will be forced off the air and no viewer will lose access to programming, Pai said he agreed with Clyburn’s statement. Schatz also asked for the commissioners’ support of legislative efforts to “make sure that does not happen,” to which O’Rielly replied: “depending on how [the legislation] reads, I would agree.” Although Pai acknowledged having some concerns “about the agency’s course,” he nevertheless stressed: “our goal is to work to ensure a smooth and successful transition.”