Chairman Pai Leaves Strong Legacy at FCC

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is set to depart on January 20 and held his final meeting yesterday. National Taxpayers Union (NTU), the nation’s oldest taxpayer advocacy organization, thanks Chairman Pai for some of his important accomplishments --  many of which NTU worked on with the Chairman and supported.

Restoring Internet Freedom Order

Chairman Pai’s order to lift burdensome regulations and return to a light-touch approach to internet regulation was met with blistering personal attacks and hyperbolic threats about the ‘end of the internet.’ In sharp contrast to the apocalyptic rhetoric, lifting the outdated Title II classification of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) made download and upload speeds faster in the United States. Overturning net neutrality allowed American taxpayers and businesses to expand and innovate without worry of increased regulations and red tape from Washington.

Telehealth and Suicide Prevention

The COVID-19 pandemic thrust telehealth to the forefront of health policy. After passage of the CARES Act, the FCC established a $200 million COVID-19 Telehealth Program to connect health care providers and patients remotely. The FCC notes that 539 funding applications were approved in 47 states plus Washington, D.C. and Guam. The policies established by the FCC will help facilitate better utilization of telehealth service in the future, which will improve health care outcomes and reduce costs for taxpayers.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2018. In 2019, the FCC recommended changing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to a three-digit code. This change is expected to be fully adopted by July 2022 to give phone companies the necessary time to make necessary network changes. By changing to a three-digit code for suicide prevention, Chairman Pai hopes to increase access to care, save lives, and reduce the stigma associated with reaching out for help.

Franchise Fee

Under Section 621 of the 1992 Cable Act, Local Franchise Authorities (LFA) are able to charge a “franchise fee” to cable companies operating within the jurisdiction of the LFA as long as that fee does not exceed five percent of gross revenue. A loophole in this allowed companies to sidestep the fee cap and collect an “in-kind” contribution to do business. The FCC highlighted some of these laughable in-kind contributions that were unrelated to the provisions of cabling service: a $13 million “wish list” in Tampa, Florida, a request for a video hookup for a Christmas celebration and money for wildflower seeds in New York, and a request for fiber on traffic lights to monitor traffic in Virginia.

In 2019, the FCC issued a rule that required companies to include all in-kind contributions into the 5 percent fee calculation. This welcome intervention alleviates the barriers that could stymie innovation and protects consumers from having these additional fees passed onto them.

Spectrum Policy

NTU applauded the decision by the FCC to reallocate 45 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed uses. Under the helm of Chairman Pai, the FCC’s forward-looking approach to spectrum policy benefits consumers and helps ensure that America remains a global leader in the development of new technologies.

Protecting Section 230

Despite pressure from the political left and right, as well as the president who appointed Chairman Pai to the helm of the FCC, it was announced this week that the FCC would not take action to weaken Section 230 protections. In a statement, Chairman Pai said changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which limits the liability for technology companies like Facebook or Twitter for removing or taking down users’ posts and states that users are legally responsible for the content they post on these sites rather than the site itself, was an issue for Congress to consider.

NTU applauds Chairman Pai’s independence and restraint here. Repealing Section 230 and caving to political pressures would harm consumers, especially as American taxpayers and businesses become increasingly reliant on the digital space during the COVID-19 pandemic. NTU wrote more about the issues associated with repealing key protections in Section 230 here.

Chairman Pai leaves the FCC having delivered on key wins for American taxpayers through targeted deregulation. Despite facing numerous hyperbolic, personal attacks, Ajit Pai maintained a forward-thinking approach ensuring that the United States is well-positioned to maintain its role as a global leader in the technology space and a leader in the race for 5G services. The American taxpayer had a great public servant in Ajit Pai, and NTU enthusiastically thanks him for his dedicated service.