Editorial: Right Foot Forward

As a B&C reporter waited in the Federal Communications
Commission’s eighth-floor lobby to interview
Ajit Pai, the elevator doors opened to reveal the
FCC’s two Republican commissioners, Pai and senior
Republican Robert McDowell, returning from lunch.

It was appropriate to find them together, since Pai and McDowell are aligned in
their dislike of too heavy a regulatory hand on industry. They have teamed up to dissent
on a couple of recent FCC decisions, as well as to cast the first votes (after that
of chairman Julius Genachowski) approving the Verizon/SpectrumCo deal.

But while commissioner Pai appears to be a solid second vote for more deregulatory
policies, he is also charting his own path, though a trail he concedes was blazed by
his parents, who came to this country from India. Pai is not focused on being the first
Indian-American commissioner, though he is proud of that distinction, given that it
reflects on the success and sacrifice of his parents. It is easy to put conservatives and
liberals into boxes: industry tools, union lackeys—the better to marginalize them.

But Pai’s defense of the marketplace as a primary driver of innovation and
opportunity appears rooted in his experience of family success driven by initiative
and rewarded by the marketplace. “Their approach to life,” he says of his parents,
“is that when an opportunity presents itself, you should work as hard as you can to
take advantage of it. I take the same approach as a general regulatory matter that if
we remove some of the regulatory barriers to opportunity, risk-takers in the private
sector will take advantage of it and deliver cutting-edge technologies and services.”

It is not clear how much Pai can get done from the bully pulpit of a minority
seat on the FCC, but he has some good ideas about speeding the agency’s decisionmaking—
one of which he credits to media activist attorney Andrew Schwartzman,
hardly the poster-person for a conservative Republican commissioner. It will take
more such cross-pollination of reform ideas to get any real reform done.

In his first extensive interview as an FCC commissioner, Pai is careful
not to talk too specifically about issues currently before the commission, but he
does speak broadly about the need for the FCC to acknowledge that the marketplace
is more competitive than the one for which legacy regulations were adopted.

He also had the right answer, at least as far as broadcasters are concerned, on the future
of broadcasters facing a broadband-centric FCC (and Pai is as high on wireless as
anybody) that is about to come out with the first rules of the road for spectrum reclamation.
“To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the broadcasting industry’s demise
have been greatly exaggerated,” he told B&C. “Broadcasting continues to play a vital
role in communities across the country. On the television and the radio side, consumers
still draw tremendous benefits from broadcasting, and I think that is something
that will continue into the future...I’m optimistic about the future of broadcasting.”

We aren’t in the business of endorsing individuals, candidates or regulators. Our
readers are smart enough to figure out for themselves who it is in their best interests
to support. But we can tell them it is in their interests to consider Pai’s case for a nimbler
and more accountable FCC, as well as a still-relevant broadcasting business.