Ajit Pai

FCC Launches Review of All Media Regs

Chairman says goal is to 'figure out whether or how' to update them

The FCC voted to launch a review of all its rules and regs applying to media outlets, broadcast, cable and satellite.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai pledged to take a weed whacker to any unnecessary regs and the public notice (PN) approved 2-1 along party lines Thursday is meant to collect input on what stakeholders believe need whacking or preserving.

The FCC has long reviewed its telecom regs and ownership regs under a congressional mandate, but there is no similar review required for media regs in general. "But that doesn’t mean we can’t," said Pai, "hence, this Public Notice."

"The goal here is the same as it is with our biennial review [of telecom regs]—but for our media regulations," Pai said. "That is, we want to figure out whether and how to update our rules to match the realities of today’s marketplace. We aim to get public input on which rules are still necessary and which should be modified or eliminated. We want to modernize our rules in order to better promote the public interest and clear a path for more competition, innovation, and investment in the media sector. This is simply good government."

But the FCC won't be operating in a vacuum. "In order for this effort to be successful, we’ll need your help," he said. "I encourage all interested parties to file comments in this proceeding and bring to our attention rules that deserve the Commission’s consideration."

"This item exemplifies the Commission’s newfound openness to stakeholder input and its shift toward reality-based decision making," said commissioner Michael O'Rielly. "As has been often noted by myself and others, our regulations in the media space are strewn with anachronisms more appropriate for a different set of circumstances. A wholesale review is necessary and, indeed, long overdue."

The dissent, not surprisingly, came from Democrat Mignon Clyburn, who has pushed back on Pai's initial flurry of deregulatory moves, including on business data services (BDS) and media ownership.

"The purpose of a Public Notice (PN) should be to gather information and build a record before drawing conclusions," Clyburn said. "Yet it seems in the case of this PN, the FCC’s majority starts with a premise that advancing the public interest can only be achieved by clearing the books of rules for the benefit of industry."

Clyburn is concerned the result of the review might be to reduce broadcast ownership reporting requirements from biennially to quadrennially or eliminating rules on competitive access to cable programming or regulations on carriage agreements.

She did say that where regs are whacked by the majority, she hopes that "will result in the freeing up of agency resources to actually enforce those rules that remain on the books. This could include program access and carriage complaints, compliance with the children’s educational television reporting, and allegations of redlining."