Why Radical Deregulation Is Happening So Fast At The FCC
By Andrew Jay Schwartzman
Mar 19 2017
Chairman Ajit Pai is moving fast at the FCC
President Donald Trump has moved quickly to use Executive Orders and other
plenary powers to deliver on some of his major campaign promises on issues
such as immigration, the Dakota Access pipeline and appointment of a
conservative Supreme Court Justice. For the most part, however, his
promised deregulatory assault on what his chief strategist Steven Bannon
calls the “Administrative State” has not advanced as quickly. Hundreds of
top-level positions at Executive Branch agencies remain vacant, and the
process of rescinding regulatory policies can be cumbersome and time
There is at least one important exception – media and telecommunications
regulation at the Federal Communications Commission.
Within weeks after taking office, newly-designated FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
has moved aggressively and with unprecedented speed to overturn many recent
FCC decisions and changed some longstanding policies. While some of these
actions are more symbolic in nature, others have had immediate and
significant impact. Many more such actions are likely to be unveiled in the
weeks, not to mention months, to come.
This is a very partial list of Chairman Pai’s early initiatives:
• Instructing agency attorneys not to defend the FCC’s authority to
regulate intrastate prison phone rates in a court hearing held on February
6. (I was allowed to defend the intrastate rates in their stead.) While the
agency’s attorneys did defend the Commission’s ability to regulate
less-important interstate rates, Chairman Pai has indicated that if the FCC
wins the case, he will likely set the rates at a higher level.
• Setting aside a decision admonishing a dozen TV stations for
failure to comply with rules requiring them to place information about
their sales of commercials concerning political issues.
• Overturning “policy guidance” that disfavored the use of certain
contractual arrangements allowing broadcasters to evade the FCC’s rules
limiting the number of TV stations one company can operate in a particular
• Staying the effectiveness of new rules requiring broadband
Internet access service providers to protect their customers’ browsing and
• Abandoning the FCC’s scrutiny of so-called “zero rating”
practices under the Commission’s Network Neutrality rules. As a result,
wireless carriers have been free to allow customers to use favored music
and video content outside the companies’ monthly data caps.
• Setting aside orders designating nine companies to be national
providers of subsidized Lifeline broadband services for low-income
• Rescinding a cybersecurity policy white paper putting forth
cybersecurity policies finding that market place forces are insufficient to
protect the public and national security.
• Suspending an inquiry into a Comcast-affiliated video streaming
service that appeared to violate the conditions imposed when Comcast was
allowed to purchase NBC Universal.
Taken together, these and several other of Chairman Pai’s actions
constitute a dramatic departure which is far more extensive, and far more
rapid, than what any prior incoming Chairman has undertaken.
There are a number of reasons why things are moving so fast and so
radically at the FCC.