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From tracking down pirate radio operations to modernizing media rules to provoking crowds to protest over net neutrality, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has had a busy 365 days.
Beginning with his first full day in office a year ago this week in January 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has offered a comprehensive list of the accomplishments the agency has made under his tenure.
Back in February 2007, Pai used one of his first public appearances as chairman to say that under his leadership, radio would not be neglected.
“I will work aggressively to cut unnecessary red tape, modernize our rules and give you more flexibility to serve your audiences,” he said at an event at the NAB headquarters in February 2017. “Our regulations should reflect the marketplace of today, not the marketplace as it existed 30 or 40 years ago.”
Pai has attempted to follow that mantra in several ways. Under his tenure, the agency has eliminated the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, eliminated the main studio rule, given AM broadcasters flexibility in where to locate their FM translators, eliminated public inspection file requirements, updated EEO rules and relaxed third-party fundraising restrictions for noncommercial TV and radio stations.
[Chairman Pai: The Radio World Interview, March 2017]
During his 100th day on the job in May 2017, Pai said in a speech that the FCC “will not hesitate to revise overly burdensome rules or repeal them altogether” when the facts warrant it.
Public safety has remained a focus, too. Earlier this month, the commission began investigating the false missile alert that was released in Hawaii in January, and plans to share those findings at the Jan. 30 Open Meeting. The commission also adopted a new Blue Alert within the nation’s emergency alerting system, although support from broadcasters for the alerts has been tepid in some corners.
The commission has also made pirate radio enforcement a priority. The agency initiated more than 60 investigations of pirate operators throughout the country and issued 119 notices of unauthorized operation. The FCC also voted to propose the maximum fine allowable by levying a $144,344 fine against a north Miami operator. The commission has also proposed to find property owners liable for pirate operations.
The FCC has not, however, been as equally transparent at sharing the results of these investigations and proposed fines.
Pai has also made transparency and process reforms a cornerstone of his efforts. This has involved making agenda items available to the public three weeks before voting and setting up an online dashboard that provides the public with more detailed information on the agency’s work.
His fact sheet also spent some time comparing his efforts to that of his predecessor, former Chairman Tom Wheeler. In one item, which Pai broadly called “Getting Things Done,” he said the current commission has adopted more than double the number of agenda items in open meetings when compared with Wheeler’s FCC. He has also helped to restore the collaborative and consensus-based tradition of FCC decision making.
Yet there was no mention of several impassioned dissents registered during Pai’s tenure by other commissioners — most notably those of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel over the hotly debated net neutrality ruling in December.
Over the last year, Pai has also focused on what he called his “number one priority” — “closing the digital divide and bringing the benefits of the Internet age to all Americans” — which includes a proposal to increase funding for telemedicine in rural areas as well increased funding for broadband connectivity in rural and tribal areas.