Ajit Pai Defends FCC Budget Cut

Chairman says FCC can do more with less

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the commission can do more with less—102 fewer full-time employees, for example—and his budget reflected that philosophy while still being able to serve the FCC's core mission of protecting the public interest and closing the digital divide.

Pai, joined by commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O'Rielly, testified on the FCC's budget before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

The FCC has asked for about $322 million, 5.2% less than the previous year, even though the FCC's budget has been flat since 2009. 

Pai conceded it was a challenge to do more with less but that the FCC had rolled up its sleeves. And while he said past chairmen had pointed out that the FCC is fully funded by fees charged to licensees, he also remembered—and more than one legislator reminded him—that someone was paying that fee, including businesses big and small and the consumers to whom those fees were passed along.

Pai said that even with fewer people, the FCC had more than doubled the number of items it was dealing with at its public meetings—saying the average was not 5.83 items vs. 2.58 under his predecessor. He cited a number of cost savings as well, from closing an off-site warehouse to cutting down on the number of printers and copying machines.

The chairman also said he thought refraining from regulatory overreach would also prove to be a cost savings.

Many of the legislators sought, and received, assurances from the chairman that the FCC would continue to prioritize broadband deployment with that tighter budget.

Pai also said that while reaching underserved communities continued to be important, the FCC would prioritize getting it to some of the 30 million unserved who have no access to high-speed broadband. 

The focus on deployment was no surprise, given the number of subcommittee members from rural states. Subcommittee chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito is from West Virginia, which has the lowest broadband deployment of any state. She said without connectivity, communities would continue to struggle. She cited a lack of competition as one problem.

She said broadband should be easily available and affordable, adding: "It's that simple."

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that having to do more with less will eventually come to a point of diminishing returns, a point she said is fast approaching.