New FCC Chairman Says He Aims to "Modernize" Rules for Broadcasters

During a keynote at the NAB Show, Ajt Pai says next-gen TV is a "priority."
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Ajit Pai

Urging a "spirit of cooperation," FCC chairman Ajt Pai received a standing ovation as he outlined plans during the FCC keynote Tuesday at the NAB Show — his first since President Donald Trump took office and appointed him as FCC chairman.

"I’ll work aggressively to modernize the FCC’s rules, cut unnecessary red tape and give broadcasters more flexibility to serve their audiences," Pai told a packed room. "Broadcasting remains an indispensable part of America’s communications landscape. And under my chairmanship, broadcasters and broadcasting won’t be seen as a speed bump."

As part of that effort, he introduced an initiative to get rid of dated or "unnecessary" rules. "Right now, there are close to 1,000 pages of [rules] on the books, many of them decades old. ... We need to see which rules are still necessary and which should be relaxed or repealed," he said. 

Pai reported that on May 18, the FCC would vote on a proposal to start this review. "We’ll want to hear which rules you think should be modified or repealed as part of this review, and why," he said.

Pai also addressed several specific topics of concern for broadcasters, including the proposed "next-gen TV" transmission standard (known as ATSC 3.0) that would combine the capabilities of broadcast and broadband. The NAB wants to get moving, and Pai called this a "priority,"

"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. ... The deadline for submitting input on our proposal is June 8," he said, adding that "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 generally."

Pai also addressed the recently completed broadcast spectrum auction, saying the process is "far from over" as the industry begins "repacking," the multiyear process of moving specific broadcasters to new channels. Restating a worry voiced by the NAB, he asserted, "Part of that involves making sure that no protected television broadcaster is forced to go dark due to circumstances outside of its control."

Pai made no mention of net neutrality rules that were put in place in 2015 under his predecessor, former chairman Tom Wheeler. Some recent news reports have indicated that the FCC may replace those regulations.