New Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai took darts and laurels from members — depending on their political persuasions — of the Senate Commerce Committee during an oversight hearing Wednesday, while nonpartisan types applauded his commitment to transparency.
Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, noted that the Republican Pai has announced a plan to give the public access to documents to be discussed at FCC’s monthly meetings. Under former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler, those documents remained sealed until after the commission voted.
The FCC, under President Donald Trump, will now lean 3-2 in favor of Republicans.
“Pai has long been a champion for open government,” Szoka said. “It’s refreshing that he hasn’t abandoned his commitment to transparency and due process now that those principles will benefit Democrats.”
Pai was renominated for another term on the FCC by Trump prior to the committee meeting, the panel’s first FCC oversight hearing in six years. The Senate must confirm Pai’s place on the commission before the end of the year.
He was hammered by Democrats at the hearing for his decision this week to rescind a report touting the successes of the E-rate program, which provides subsidies to bring high-speed internet to school and libraries across the country.
Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said that decision “sent shock waves through schools and libraries across the nation.”
Pai’s decision may not indicate a plan to dial back the program, however. BroadcastingCable reported that an FCC official told the outlet on background the report was rescinded because it had not gone through the proper channels before its release. It can still be viewed here on the FCC website.
Commerce Chairman John Thune applauded Pai for improving transparency and efforts to reforming agency processes.
“Counter to the trend of Chairman Pai’s recent predecessors, who often sought to amass as much power in the chairman’s office as they could, these simple steps instead empower the public and the other commissioners,” the South Dakota Republican said.
Szoka said Pai’s renomination should be encouraging for those hoping to see a bridge of the digital divide, given the new chairman’s digital empowerment agenda, which lays out steps to help expand broadband access in underserved areas. It incorporates the Broadband Deployment Advisory Council that TechFreedom proposed in 2015.
“We expect the BDAC to get up and running quickly, and to play a key role in ensuring that new legislation at the federal, state and local level makes broadband deployment easier,” Szoka said.