In his first NAB Show keynote address as FCC chairman, Ajit Pai addressed the changes in the broadcasting industry and pledged that the FCC will make sure that regulations reflect those changes.
“I will work aggressively to modernize the FCC’s rules, cut unnecessary red tape, and give broadcasters the flexibility that they need to better serve their audiences. Under my chairmanship, broadcasting, and broadcasters will not be a speed bump.”
Pai announced a review of the close to 1,000 pages of media regulations. “At the FCC’s next public meeting on May 18th, we'll vote on a proposal to start a comprehensive review of the media regulations.” He asked for comments on that process so that the rules match the “reality of 2017.”
On AM revitalization, Pai said that the first 2017 application window for translators for Class C and D stations will open this summer. He praised fellow commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, for her leadership in forging a bipartisan agreement on revitalization and looked forward to such cooperation in the future.
Pai described his vision for dealing with the broadcast industry in these words: “I hope there will be a new spirit of cooperation among us and between us. You have my word that this FCC will go with the facts and with the law between us. In return, I would ask you to keep an open mind and presumption of good faith to the decisions that we make.”
His remarks in full, as prepared for delivery, are below.
you, Senator Smith, for that warm introduction and for your outstanding leadership.
have a confession to make. After the Oregon Ducks beat the Kansas Jayhawks in this
year’s Elite Eight, I briefly considered turning down Senator Smith’s invitation
to address the NAB Show. But then I quickly remembered that the Chairman of our
congressional oversight committee, Greg Walden, is a University of Oregon graduate
(not to mention a former broadcaster). So here I am.
is my first time speaking at an NAB Show general session. After four years of smaller
panel discussions, this is a big change. In television terms, it’s kind of like
being moved from an early-morning time slot to primetime. And with this step up
comes added pressure. After all, I don’t want to be like ABC’s “Emily’s Reasons
Why Not” or CBS’s “Secret Talents of the Stars” and get cancelled after just one
But on a more serious note, this is a time of exciting
opportunities and daunting challenges for all segments of the communications industry.
Things are changing quickly and at an ever-faster pace. So if you’re standing still,
you’re falling behind.
This is certainly true for broadcasters,
as NAB recognizes. The central theme of this year’s show is that the convergence
of Media, Entertainment, and Technology—the M.E.T. Effect—has created a new digital
economy, and with it, new challenges, new sources of competition, and new opportunities
for the broadcasting industry.
It’s clearer than ever that the
way Americans produce and consume media today is dramatically different than it
was a generation ago. Indeed, as the father of a five-year-old and a three-year-old,
I see this every single day. When I was growing up, Sesame Street was a show that
you watched on a television set at the same time each day. To my children, Sesame
Street is a collection of videos and apps that they can interact with on numerous
devices whenever they want.
But notwithstanding these changes,
I remain fundamentally optimistic about the future of broadcasting. For starters,
there is abundant evidence that broadcasters are continuing to thrive in the Internet
age. The overwhelming majority of the most watched shows are still on broadcast
TV. And each week, 93% of Americans over the age of 12 listen to the radio, which
is about the same as a decade ago, and the decade before that, and the decade before
But the biggest reason I’m bullish about this medium is
that broadcasting’s strengths—its values—are timeless. I’m talking about localism,
diversity, and public service.
Americans will always need people
in their communities to do investigative reporting to keep local leaders honest.
will always need a universally available platform for people from all walks of life
to share their views or their art.
We will always need a trusted
source to turn to when disaster strikes and we are desperate for up-to-the-minute
information on how and where to seek help.
We will always need
shared experiences that connect our communities—whether it’s a show on TV that makes
us laugh, a song on the radio that makes us sing along, the wrong winner being announced
at an awards show, or a widely-disliked team mounting a dramatic comeback to win
the Super Bowl.
That’s why I believe we will always need broadcasters.
Lest you think I’m just up here spraying sunshine, consider Ooyala’s
February 2017 State of the Industry forecast which offered a sobering assessment
of the hyper-competitive digital video landscape. It found, “Original, local and
live are the big three types of [over the top] content that will set services apart
in a standing-room-only video marketplace.” But think about that for a moment. Original,
local, and live content is right in broadcasting’s wheelhouse. So continued success
is there for the taking.
I want to focus on localism for a minute.
The average amount of local news programming aired by commercial television stations
has increased by over 40% since 2004. And this didn’t occur because of government
mandates. It occurred because broadcasters responded to consumer demand and competitive
pressures. So I don’t see the free market as the enemy of localism. To the contrary,
I see them as entirely compatible.
And it’s also important to
note that local newscasts can make an impact far beyond the local communities in
which they are seen. For example, here’s one statistic that I found quite striking.
Last year, the Pew Research Center asked American adults from which forms of media
they had learned about the presidential election in the prior week. And the most
common answer was local television news. That’s right. More Americans had learned
about the presidential election from local television news than from national television
news, cable television news, news websites, social networking websites, or newspapers.
I guess that’s why it’s still called BROAD-casting.
So where does
the FCC fit into the future of broadcasting? Our job, as with any part of the communications
industry, is to make sure that our rules keep up with the times.
last thing broadcasting—or any industry for that matter—needs is outdated regulations
standing in its way. And that’s particularly true in communications, where things
change so quickly. That’s why I’ll work aggressively to modernize the FCC’s rules,
cut unnecessary red tape, and give broadcasters more flexibility to serve their
audiences. Broadcasting remains an indispensable part of America’s communications
landscape. And under my Chairmanship, broadcasting won’t be seen as a speed bump.
how we’re putting these principles into practice.
I’ll start with
one of the hot topics at this year’s show: ATSC 3.0, or Next Gen TV, as some call
it. There’s a lot of excitement surrounding this new technology—and for good reason.
This new transmission standard is the first one to marry the advantages of broadcasting
and the Internet. And it has the potential to let broadcasters offer much better
service in a variety of ways. Improvement in picture quality with 4K transmissions;
immersive audio; better accessibility options; the ability to provide advanced emergency
alerts, more tailored to a viewer’s particular location. ATSC 3.0 makes all of these
That’s why I made it a priority to tee up the Next Gen
TV standard. In my first full month as Chairman, the Commission voted unanimously
to seek comment on a proposal to allow broadcasters to use the ATSC 3.0 transmission
standard on a voluntary, market-driven basis.
My view is simple:
As with any industry, the FCC should promote innovation in the broadcasting business—not
stand in the way of progress. We should allow interested broadcasters to experiment
with this next generation standard.
Regarding timeframe, the deadline
for submitting input on our proposal is June 8. We’ll then review the record carefully.
Our goal is to issue a final authorization of the Next Gen TV standard by the end
of the year. We’ll move quickly (by FCC standards, anyway) because I want the United
States to lead the world in broadcasting, just as in the communications industry
Next, I’d like to discuss a new initiative that I’m
pretty excited about. As you surely know, one of the most powerful forces in government
is inertia. Rules that get on the books seem to stay there forever, even when they’re
no longer needed or are counterproductive. That’s certainly true when it comes to
the FCC’s media regulations. Right now, there are close to one thousand pages
of them on the books, many of them decades old.
Well, I’m trying
to change that. Given the realities of today’s media marketplace, we need to see
which rules are still necessary and which should be relaxed or repealed. So at the
FCC’s next public meeting on May 18, we will vote on a proposal to start a comprehensive
review of the FCC’s media regulations. This morning, I circulated the Public Notice
to my fellow Commissioners that would kick off this review. We’ll also explore whether
certain rules should be modified to provide regulatory relief to small businesses.
And to be clear, while our broadcast regulations will be a critical subject of this
proceeding, we will also review rules pertaining to cable and direct broadcast satellite.
for this effort to be successful, we’ll need you to participate. We’ll want to hear
which rules you think should be modified or repealed as part of this review, and
why. We’ll then study the record to determine whether to propose modifying or eliminating
certain regulations. Our goal is simple: to have rules that reflect the world of
2017, not 2007, 1997, 1987, or 1977.
As it stands, there are some
outdated rules that we’ve already focused on. One of those is the main studio rule,
which requires each AM, FM, and television broadcast station to maintain a main
studio that is located in or near its community of license.
Commission first adopted main studio requirements before World War II. And the initial
idea behind this rule made sense. A local studio within a station’s service contour
would help that station identify community needs and interests, facilitate community
input, and give the public access to the station’s inspection file.
still believe it’s important for Americans to be able to share input with local
broadcasters. But it seems to me that technological innovations have rendered local
studios unnecessary. Nowadays, if individuals want to contact their local station,
they are much more likely to do so by social media, email, or phone call.
is why, at the FCC’s May meeting, we will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
that tees up eliminating the Commission’s main studio rule for both radio and television
broadcasters. In 2017, we can give broadcasters additional flexibility by repealing
the main studio rule without sacrificing transparency or community engagement. After
all, TV broadcasters have already transitioned to an online public file, and radio
broadcasters will do so by early 2018. And in reality, an online public file is
much more accessible to the American people than one sitting in a main studio.
credit for this initiative goes to my colleague Commissioner O’Rielly. He has strongly
pushed striking the main studio rule, arguing that it prevents stations from being
more efficient by collocating offices, without any real corresponding public interest
benefits. Commissioner O’Rielly also deserves credit for the FCC finally modernizing
its interpretation of its equal employment opportunity rules to account for the
way that people actually look for jobs these days. He pushed the EEO Declaratory
Ruling that we issued last Friday across the finish line. I’ll be looking to him
for more good ideas on updating our rules.
It’s also critical,
of course, for our media ownership rules to match the modern marketplace. It seems
pretty clear that many of them don’t—including one dating back to 1975. Ask yourself:
do you take seriously any assessment of the market for news that says “That Internet
thing—just ignore it”? So going forward, we’re going to have a much more fact-based
discussion about where our media ownership regulations rules are and where they
Now, I know what many of you are probably thinking
at this point of my speech: “When is he going to talk about AM radio revitalization?”
After all, Ajit Pai coming to the NAB Show and not discussing AM revitalization
would be like Barry Manilow performing a Las Vegas show without singing “Copacabana.”
So here we go.
To date, we’ve focused on helping AM broadcasters
get FM translators while we work on the AM band’s long-term problems. Thus far,
the response has been tremendous. Last year, for example, the FCC gave AM stations
more latitude to move an FM translator purchased on the secondary market. We received
nearly 1,100 applications and granted almost 95% of these requests. Through this
effort alone, more than 20% of AM stations in the United States obtained FM translators
to grow their audience.
For stations that chose not to participate,
the Commission agreed to open two new FM translator application windows, in which
AM stations can apply for a new translator. And if mutually exclusive applications
can’t be resolved, those applications would proceed to an auction. Our 2015 Order
directed these auction windows to open beginning in 2017. Now that the Incentive
Auction has been completed, I’m pleased to report that we should be able to open
the first application window, which will be for Class C and D stations, this summer.
The necessary IT work is being done now and I’ve been told that it’s going well.
course, there are also other important elements to our AM Radio Revitalization Initiative.
The FCC has made a number of proposals relating to the AM band that remain pending,
and I hope we can move forward on some of them soon.
I’d be remiss
if I wrapped up my discussion of AM radio without highlighting the role my colleague
Commissioner Clyburn has played here. She headed the FCC when the AM revitalization
proceeding was launched in 2013. And the approach we ended up taking on translators
in 2015 was the result of a bipartisan agreement that I reached with her at a time
when the leadership of the agency wasn’t exactly receptive to such agreements. I’d
like to thank Commissioner Clyburn for her leadership on this issue and look forward
to collaborating again.
Last but not least: I don’t know if you’ve
heard, but the FCC conducted the world’s first incentive auction. Less than two
weeks ago, the “auction” portion of the incentive auction officially ended and the
results were publicly announced.
Now, I know that many people
in the audience didn’t agree with every policy choice that the FCC made concerning
the Incentive Auction. I didn’t either. Nevertheless, making this complicated enterprise
work took an extraordinary amount of skill, expertise, dedication, and effort. So
I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank all of the past and present
FCC staffers who worked on the auction. Having seen their work up close, I can say
that they represent the best of public service.
But we also recognize
that this process is far from over. We’ve now begun the post-auction transition
process. It’s critical to ensure the transition’s ultimate success, including a
smooth and efficient repacking process. Part of that involves making sure that no
protected television broadcaster is forced to go dark due to circumstances outside
of its control.
Obviously, we have a lot of work ahead of us.
And to get it done right, all of us—the FCC, broadcasters, and wireless carriers—will
need to work together closely.
We’re already working to foster
greater cooperation. Last Thursday, for instance, the FCC announced that it has
assigned regional coordinators—that is, dedicated Commission staffers—to serve as
points of contact and help support broadcast television stations throughout the
country that will be moving to new channel assignments during the transition. This
will help stations collaborate and help resolve issues that arise. The regional
coordinators have already reached out to each station in their assigned regions
to introduce themselves and begin working together.
this is what I want you to know: I hope there will be a new spirit of cooperation
among us. To borrow from former President Bush, over the last five years, you and I have come to know each other.
Even when we don’t agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand. You
have my word that this FCC will go wherever the facts and the law lead us. And in
return, I would ask that you keep an open mind and apply a presumption of good faith
to the decisions we make.
I’d like to close my remarks with a tribute to a member of
the Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Earlier, I spoke about how I’m
optimistic about the future of broadcasting because its values are timeless. To
me, one episode from last year really drives that point home. Amidst the tumult
of 2016, one event seemed to bring people together like no other: the retirement
of broadcasting legend Vin Scully.
The outpouring of love and
admiration was truly remarkable. By making personal connections with everybody who
listened to him, he connected us to one another. That’s the power of broadcasting.
And that’s never going away.
Vin Scully was a font of wisdom.
And he preached one lesson that I’ve taken to heart. The trademark of Scully’s broadcasting
style was that he knew to get out of the way. His most famous call came after Kirk
Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series: “In a year that has been so
improbable, the impossible has happened.” What made it signature Scully was that
it was preceded by one minute and ten seconds of silence. He knew the fans could
tell the story better than he could. As Scully once said, “I try to call the play
as quickly as I possibly can and let the crowd roar.”
advice for a regulator. To me, there’s nothing better than the roar of America’s
communications engine. So long as I have the privilege of serving as FCC Chairman,
you can be sure that I’ll do my best to get unnecessary rules out of the way so
that broadcasters can rev that engine.