January 24, 2018 marked Ajit Pai’s first anniversary as FCC Chairman. President Trump appointed the former FCC commissioner to run the agency in January 2017. To celebrate his first year in office, Chairman Pai released a summary of the FCC’s accomplishments, titled "A Year of Action and Accomplishment." The seven-page accomplishment list was divided into five sections:
1. Bridging the Digital Divide
Commissioner Pai stated that “since my first day in office, I’ve said repeatedly that my number one priority is closing the digital divide and bringing the benefits of the Internet age to all Americans.” Some of the specific actions listed under this section include adoption of Connect America Fund Phase II and Mobility Fund Phase II.
2. Promoting Innovation and Investment
The first item in this section is, of course, the highly controversial “Restoring Internet Freedom” Order, better known as the repeal of Net Neutrality. On December 14, 2017, the FCC voted to reverse the “FCC’s 2015 imposition of heavy-handed Title II utility-style government regulation on Internet providers.” The first wave of lawsuits to save Net Neutrality were filed earlier this month. We expect the courts will be busy with this issue, but we may also see a Congressional push to overrule the FCC.
3. Protecting Consumers and Enhancing Public Safety
Chairman Pai focused on FCC enforcement actions taken against those who have violated anti-robocall and anti-spoofing laws, as well as the rulemaking process that launched to address robocalls to reassigned numbers. TCPA violations and subsequent litigation, in keeping with the steady upward trend of cases filed year to year, promise to be a big issue in 2018. Chairman Pai also reinforced his commitment to providing “the communications tools needed to keep people safe in times of trouble,” while describing some of the actions taken to enhance public safety under his watch.
4. Transparency and Process Reforms
Chairman Pai described the new processes that were implemented in an effort to increase transparency. Perhaps the biggest change noted under this section includes public access to open meeting agenda items three weeks prior to a vote. “This is the first time in history Americans have been able to see these documents before the FCC takes action on them.” The Chairman also launched his online transparency dashboard, an idea he proposed as Commissioner in 2013. The new resource on the agency’s website provides access to reports, graphics, accountability matrices, and easier access to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) materials.
5. Cutting and Modernizing Outdated Regulations
In the final section, Pai mentioned that the FCC “want[s] to make sure that our regulations match the realities of the modern marketplace.” This section discusses, among other things, updates to the FCC’s media ownership and attribution regulations, as well as a new five-year waiver of the enhanced Title II transparency reporting requirements for small businesses with no more than 250,000 subscribers, which helps small and competitive ISPs avoid “ill-defined reporting obligations.”
Chairman Pai’s actions and accomplishments are not without controversy, causing a bit of turmoil in the industry and amongst consumers. The effects of Chairman Pai’s first-year decisions are still unfolding, and 2018 is certain to come with its own set of challenges.