The Federal Communications Commission is an agency that deals in very complex regulations, but with issues that are crucial to most media consumers. One of the five commissioners was in Ohio tthis week, and Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler sat down him to talk about some of the big issues the panel is facing.
Ajit Pai may be just one voice on the FCC, but he has some strong opinions. He’s just proposed that the FCC hold an up-or-down vote on getting rid of the commission's blackout policy, which prohibits cable or satellite companies from airing NFL games if local broadcasters can’t air them because they aren’t sold out.
“I think whatever validity the rule might have had back in 1975 when we adopted it, it’s outlived its usefulness and it harms fans all across the country," Pai said.
And he opposed the new rules on net neutrality that were proposed by Chairman Tom Wheeler earlier this year. Pai said he’d rather ask Congress for clarification on the FCC’s authority in this area, and he says he wants to focus on the issue of making broadband more available.
“I’ve been to parts of this country that don’t have any broadband options, I’ve been to parts of the country that have a broadband option but it’s not serving their interests," he said. "To me, the FCC should be focused more on that as opposed to the net neutrality debate, which by-and-large addresses harms that haven’t yet happened, haven’t materialized.”
Some cable subscribers have revolted in the last year over the packages cable companies have offered, and there have been proposals to encourage or even force providers to allow customers to buy only the channels they want to watch.
Pai said the FCC shouldn’t mandate one model of distribution over another, but didn’t endorse the a la carte cable idea. And Pai said he’s pleased that the Critical Information Needs study that planned to send government-funded researchers into newsrooms to ask questions about bias and story selection has been suspended.
“My own view, which thankfully was vindicated by members of the American public, was that that core constitutional freedom of the press would be impinged upon if the government tried to do that CIN study, as it was called," he said. "So it’s been scrapped and hopefully it won’t resurrect itself into the future.”
And Pai said he’s a public broadcasting fan, and supports protecting public TV along with local broadcasters in next year’s incentive auction of licenses for airwaves in the low bands of the spectrum – especially since he says he’s aware that in some areas public broadcasting is the only local outlet.