Ajit Pai Packs FCC's April Agenda

UHF discount rollback, BDS deregulatory reform items on docket
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The FCC has released its agenda for the April public meeting, and as expected, it includes a vote on restoring the UHF discount, at least temporarily. It is a packed meeting, with a new take on Business Data Service(BDS) regs, helping out noncoms, rolling back another Tom Wheeler reg, and speeding the retirement of legacy copper.

 "Last September, the FCC voted to eliminate the [UHF] discount on a party-line vote. That decision has been challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai blogged about the meeting. "In my view, the FCC is likely to lose that litigation because it went about eliminating the UHF discount in the wrong way. So I’m proposing that we hit the reset button, returning the rule to the way it was up until last fall. And then we’ll launch a comprehensive review of the national ownership cap, including the UHF discount, later this year."

In dissenting from that party-line vote, Pai said that while he was not necessarily opposed to eliminating the discount, he was if it did not include at the same time reviewing whether the 39% national broadcast ownership cap should also be adjusted.

The agenda for the meeting is a lengthy one (see below). It also includes:

Allowing noncommercial stations more flexibility to raise money for disaster relief without having to seek FCC waivers.

Pai is proposing to allow stations to use up to 1% of their airtime for such fund-raising for nonprofits, although it would not apply to stations funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). That could be a moot point if President Donald Trump gets his way and CPB funding is eliminated.

Pai has another gift of sorts for noncoms, and another rollback of a rule.

The FCC will vote to eliminate a rule adopted by the FCC under his predecessor that would require officers and board members of noncoms to provide personal information to the FCC as part of its data collection on ownership diversity.

Noncoms were opposed to the rule because they said it would discourage people from wanting to serve in those positions, as was Pai, who says the FCC "should be thanking people who want to serve their community in this way, not imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens upon them."

The chairman is also taking another crack at updating.deregulating Business Data Service (BDS).

Wheeler attempted to do so, but ran out of time on a proposal that would have potentially regulated competitive BDS entrants, including cable operators, which those ISPs said was punishing them for providing the competition to incumbents that the FCC itself promoted.

There has been a lot of activity in the BDS docket in the past few weeks, with some folks wanting the chairman to close the docket, while others wanted various variations on the Wheeler effort. Cable operators just wanted to make sure Wheeler's potential regulation of new entrants was off the table, while competitive carriers wanted the Wheeler proposal, midsized carriers wanted more dereg, and AT&T wanted dereg, but preserving regulatory tests for the level of market competition.

Pai appeared to be steering toward the more deregulatory views of mid-sized carrriers, said one telecom source.

“The extensive record compiled by the Commission’s excellent staff shows substantial and growing competition in many areas of the country, thanks to new market entrants like cable companies," Pai blogged of his BDS item. "Where this competition exists, we will relax unnecessary regulation, thereby creating greater incentives for the private sector to invest in next-generation networks. But where competition is still lacking, we’ll preserve regulations necessary to prevent anti-competitive price increases."

It will also be something of an infrastructure-themed meeting.

The chairman is proposing to 1) help companies speed up the retirement of copper networks, 2) seeking comment on whether state and local reg are impeding network deployment and whether the FCC should preempt such impediments; and 3) expedite state and local approvals of wireless infrastructure deployment applications to speed the rollout of 5G. 

Following is the FCC's tentative agenda for the April meeting:

"Connect America Fund – The Commission will consider an Order on Reconsideration that would amend the construction project limitation within section 54.303 of the Commission’s rules to permit carriers to report, for universal service purposes, capital expenses per location up to the established per-location per-project limit, rather than disallowing all capital expenses associated with construction projects in excess of the limit. (WC Docket Nos. 10-90 and 14-58; CC Docket No. 01-92)

"Wireline Infrastructure Deployment – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Notice of Inquiry, and Request for Comment that would propose to remove regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment, suggest changes to speed the transition from copper networks and legacy services to next-generation networks and services dependent on fiber, and propose to reform Commission regulations that are raising costs and slowing, rather than facilitating, broadband deployment. (WC Docket No. 17-84)

"Wireless Infrastructure Deployment – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry that commences an examination of the regulatory impediments to wireless network infrastructure investment and deployment, and how the Commission may remove or reduce such impediments consistent with the law and the public interest. (WT Docket 17-79; WT Docket 15-180)

"Business Data Services – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that recognizes the strong competition present in the business data services market and modernizes the Commission’s regulatory structure accordingly to bring ever new and exciting technologies, products, and services to businesses and consumers. (WC Docket Nos. 16-143, 15-247, 05-25; GN Docket No. 13-5; RM-10593)

"Reinstating the UHF Discount – The Commission will consider an Order on Reconsideration to reinstate the UHF discount used to calculate compliance with the national television audience reach cap. (MB Docket No. 13-236)

"Noncommercial Educational Station Third-Party Fundraising – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would adopt rules permitting NCE stations not funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to alter or suspend regular programming in order to conduct fundraising for third-party non-profit organizations so long as such stations do not spend more than one percent of their total annual airtime on such activities. (MB Docket No. 12-106)

"Promoting Diversification of Ownership in the Broadcasting Services – The Commission will consider an Order on Reconsideration that would allow noncommercial broadcasters greater flexibility to use a Special Use FRN for ownership reporting purposes and avoid the need to submit personal information to the Commission. (MB Docket No. 07-294; MD Docket No. 10-234)

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