STATEMENT OF AJIT PAI
COMMISSIONER, FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
HEARING BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON COMMUNICATIONS AND TECHNOLOGY
OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON ENERGY
“OVERSIGHT OF THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION”
DECEMBER 12, 2013
Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Eshoo, and Members of the Subcommittee, it is a privilege
to appear before you this morning. It was exactly one year ago—December 12, 2012—that I last testified
in front of this Subcommittee. Much has happened since then. Most notably, we have lost two
colleagues and gained two new ones. Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner O’Rielly have already gotten
off to a strong start, and I am pleased that we once again have a full complement of Commissioners to
tackle the wide range of challenges in front of us.
From making more spectrum available for mobile broadband to facilitating the nation’s transition
to an all-IP future, from modernizing our media regulations to ensuring that our universal service reforms
hasten rather than impede broadband deployment in rural America, our work is critical to our nation’s
economic future and our people’s quality of life. And we have no time to waste. That is why the
Commission must reform its processes and become more nimble. We should be an ally rather than an
obstacle to the innovators who are transforming our economy and our society at an ever-increasing rate.
Over the course of the past year, we have made progress in many areas. But there is much more
work to be done. In my testimony this morning, I will touch on some of the issues I find most pressing.
Perhaps the most important and daunting challenge the Commission faces is the looming
spectrum crunch. We therefore continue to concentrate on implementing the responsibilities that
Congress entrusted to us in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, often called the
Spectrum Act. There, Congress tasked the Commission with, among other things, getting more spectrum
into the commercial marketplace and facilitating the establishment of a nationwide, interoperable public
safety broadband network.
.—The incentive auction is the Commission’s best opportunity to push a large
amount of spectrum well-suited for mobile broadband into the commercial marketplace. And as the
Commission moves forward on incentive auctions, I believe that five principles should guide our work. First
, we must be faithful to the statute. It is our job to implement this legislation, not to rewrite it to
conform to our policy preferences. Second
, we must respect the laws of physics. Our band plan and
approach to repacking must work from an engineering perspective. Third
, we must be fair to all
stakeholders. This is especially important because the incentive auction will fail unless both broadcasters
and wireless carriers choose to participate. Fourth
, we must keep our rules as simple as possible. The
broadcast incentive auction is inherently complicated; unnecessary complexities are likely to deter
participation. And fifth
, we need to complete this proceeding in a reasonable timeframe. Prolonged
uncertainty is not good for broadcasters or wireless carriers.
Speaking of that last point, I am disappointed that there was not a clear path to holding a
successful incentive auction by the end of 2014. I accordingly support Chairman Wheeler’s
announcement setting the middle of 2015 as our new target and applaud him for issuing a schedule to
meet that goal. It is more important to get the auction done right than to get it done right now. The
Chairman’s measured approach is particularly appropriate given that we only have one shot. If, for
example, any part of our software were to fail during the incentive auction—like another government
website that shall not be named—the Commission, by law, wouldn’t get a second bite at the apple. That
is why we must take the time and the steps necessary to subject our software to rigorous testing.
My greatest worry about the incentive auction, however, is not with the technology. It is about
participation. In order for the incentive auction to be successful, we will need robust participation by
broadcasters and wireless carriers. But right now, I am concerned that the Commission will make unwise
policy choices that will deter participation in both the reverse and forward auctions.
On the reverse auction, the Commission should not deter broadcaster participation through a
complicated “scoring” scheme. My position on this is simple. Prices paid to broadcasters should be
determined by the market. The Commission should not set them by administrative fiat. Any attempt to
restrict payments to broadcasters will prove to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Indeed, without
sufficient broadcaster participation, the entire incentive auction will fail.
And on the forward auction, the Commission should not limit carriers’ ability to participate, such
as by setting a spectrum cap or narrowing the spectrum screen despite the significant competition that
exists in the wireless market. The inevitable effect of such a policy would be less spectrum reallocated
for mobile broadband, less funding for national priorities, and an increased chance of a failed auction.
Another issue that will impact participation in the forward auction is the size of the geographic
licenses to be offered. While our NPRM proposed using Economic Areas (or EAs), I am worried that
staying this course would make it too difficult for many small carriers to participate in the auction, and
our goal should be for as many carriers as possible to bid in the auction, whether they be nationwide,
regional, or rural. I am therefore pleased to see that parties are coming forward with alternative proposals
for license sizes, such as the newly coined “partial economic areas.” Should these proposals prove to be
technically feasible, I believe that they deserve serious consideration.
Of course, it is important to remember why it is so vital to hold a successful incentive auction.
It’s not just about making more spectrum available for mobile broadband, critical as that objective is. A
successful incentive auction will also provide money for key national priorities, such as the First
Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet’s) build out of a nationwide, interoperable public safety
broadband network; Next Generation 911 implementation; public safety research; and deficit reduction.
As we move forward in this proceeding, I look forward to continuing to receive feedback from
Congress, particularly Members of this Subcommittee. Given your key role in crafting this legislation, it
is vital that the Commission keep open the lines of communication with you. It is also important for us to
coordinate closely with Canada and Mexico to address issues involving border areas. Absent such
coordination, we will have neither a timely nor successful auction.
.—In January, the Commission will hold its first major spectrum auction in nearly six
years when we auction the H Block, 10 MHz of long-fallow spectrum (1915–1920 MHz and 1995–2000
MHz) identified by Congress in the Spectrum Act. I am pleased that we did not saddle this spectrum with
burdensome and unnecessary conditions. Instead, we outlined straightforward and flexible rules for H
Block licensees. I hope that this approach will serve as a model for future auctions. If we are able to
garner at least $1.56 billion for this spectrum, which used to be viewed as almost worthless, I believe that
the auction will be an important success. It will make available 10 MHz of additional spectrum for
mobile broadband. It will provide a substantial down payment to FirstNet for construction of a
nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network. And it will demonstrate to the marketplace
that the Commission still has both the will and ability to hold a successful auction.
.—The Spectrum Act also directs the Commission to auction off 25 MHz of spectrum
adjacent to AWS-1, 2155–2180 MHz. This spectrum ideally should be paired with another 25 MHz
block adjacent to AWS-1, 1755–1780 MHz, which is currently occupied by the federal government.
These bands are already internationally harmonized for commercial use, which means deployment will be
swifter and cheaper than other options. A successful auction of this spectrum would make additional
spectrum available for mobile broadband and provide additional funding for the important national
priorities I have described above.
I am pleased that the federal government appears to be making progress on a plan to move
operations out of this spectrum and into other bands. For example, the Department of Defense and the
National Association of Broadcasters recently agreed on a proposal to share broadcast auxiliary service
spectrum at 2025–2110 MHz, thus allowing for certain Department of Defense operations to be relocated
from the 1755–1780 MHz band.
As we go forward, I believe that our goal should be to clear the 1755–1780 MHz band. If our
goal is to incentivize investment in wireless networks, nothing beats clearing. That’s one reason that the
Spectrum Act puts a thumb on the scale for clearing and allows sharing only if clearing is “not feasible
because of technical or cost constraints.”
.—Just as licensed spectrum is important to a successful spectrum strategy, so too is
unlicensed. And that brings me to one last piece of spectrum I’m excited to discuss: the 5 GHz band. I
thank the Subcommittee for its leadership in identifying and drawing attention to this important spectrum.
As I testified before the Subcommittee last December, the 5 GHz band is “tailor made” for the
next generation of Wi-Fi. Its propagation characteristics minimize interference in the band and the wide,
contiguous blocks of 5 GHz spectrum allow for extremely fast connections, with throughput reaching 1
gigabit per second. The technical standard to accomplish this, 802.11ac, already exists, and devices
implementing it are already being built. All of this means we can rapidly realize these benefits: more
robust and ubiquitous wireless coverage for consumers; more manageable networks for providers; a new
test bed for innovative application developers; and other benefits we can’t even conceive today.
Following the instructions set forth by Congress in the Spectrum Act, the Commission launched a
rulemaking earlier this year to make available up to 195 MHz of additional spectrum in the 5 GHz band
for unlicensed use. We also made proposals to allow for greater utilization of those segments of the 5
GHz band already available for unlicensed use.
Now is the time for us to move from offering proposals to taking action. This past summer, I
urged the FCC to move forward with its 5 GHz proceeding in stages, and I reiterate that call today. For
example, the Commission should move promptly to modify the service rules for the U-NII-1 band. By
raising the power limits on the U-NII-1 band and allowing for outdoor use, we can make this band
attractive for commercial Wi-Fi while safeguarding incumbent users. Likewise, we should act quickly to
add 25 MHz to the U-NII-3 band. Among other things, this measure would reduce certification costs for
companies manufacturing devices in this band. Given the growing congestion in the 2.4 GHz band
(which consumers commonly rely upon for Wi-Fi access), we should not let a few difficult issues
involving the 5 GHz band delay us from making progress on the easier ones.
Removing regulatory barriers to the deployment of wireless infrastructure is another priority for
the Commission. Building next-generation wireless broadband networks can present business and
technical challenges. But complying with the numerous federal, state, and municipal regulations covering
a wide range of physical infrastructure, from towers to small cells, can make deployment difficult or even
prohibitive. To be sure, some oversight is necessary to ensure sound engineering and safety. But many
procedures simply frustrate, rather than facilitate, deployment. Making the permitting process expensive
and unnecessarily burdensome ultimately harms consumers who are denied better and cheaper wireless
I am therefore pleased that the Commission moved forward in September with a Notice of
Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on a variety of ideas for reducing regulatory barriers to the
construction of wireless infrastructure. In particular, I’d like to highlight three of them in my testimony
, we should make clear that local moratoria on the approval of new wireless infrastructure
violate section 332 of the Communications Act. The FCC has already put in place a shot clock for
localities to address tower siting permits and other building applications. Prohibiting moratoria would
address the tactic some localities have used to evade those deadlines by adopting an indefinite “time out”
on the approval of wireless infrastructure.
, we should modernize our rules to exempt distributed antenna systems (DAS) and small
cells from our environmental processing requirements, except for rules involving radiofrequency
emissions. Given their small size and appearance, there is no reason to subject DAS and small cells to the
same environmental review as a 200-foot tower. We should similarly update our historic preservation
rules, which add yet more regulatory requirements, in order to facilitate the deployment of DAS and small
cells. It bears noting that the greater the deployment of wireless infrastructure like this, the less reliance
carriers (and hence consumers) must place on larger, “macro” cell sites and the less power networks and
, we should address what happens when a local government doesn’t comply with our shot
clock. Currently, if a city does not process an application within 150 days, the only remedy is to file a
lawsuit. This increases delay and diverts investments away from networks. To fix this problem, we
should supplement our shot clocks with a backstop: If a locality doesn’t act on a wireless facilities
application by the end of the time limit, the application should be deemed granted. (As a legal matter, I
believe the FCC has this authority following the Supreme Court’s decision this past May in City of
Arlington, Texas v. FCC
There are also other steps that the Commission can take to hasten the deployment of wireless
infrastructure. For example, we have sought comment on clarifying the scope and meaning of section
6409(a) of the Spectrum Act, which prohibits state and local governments from denying certain
collocation requests, and I hope that we make appropriate clarifications in the near term. Also, we are
looking for ways to expedite the deployment of infrastructure to implement positive train control, as
required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
The IP Transition
Today, almost every segment of the communications industry is competing to offer newer, faster,
and better broadband services. Telecommunications carriers are upgrading DSL with IP-based
technology and fiber. Cable operators have deployed DOCSIS 3.0 to increase bandwidth tenfold.
Satellite providers are offering 12 megabit packages in parts of the country that never dreamed of such
speeds. And millions of Americans—many of whom don’t subscribe to fixed broadband service at
home—now have access to the Internet on the go using the mobile spectrum the Commission auctioned
back in 2006 and 2008. Indeed, according to the State Broadband Initiative of the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration, 98.8 percent of Americans had access to high-
speed broadband as of December 2012. The common thread knitting all of these changes together is the
Internet Protocol (IP), a near-universal way to route and transmit data.
What are the results of all this competition? More choices for consumers, and major challenges
to old business models. Thirty years ago, American consumers had access to one network largely run by
one carrier, Ma Bell. Today, Americans are fleeing the copper network. 33.6 million Americans dropped
their copper landlines over the past four years. About one in seven households with plain old telephone
service over the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) dropped their service last year alone. And
competition is rampant: 99.6 percent of Americans can choose from at least three wireline competitors,
and 92 percent can choose from 10 or more
. The evidence also shows that consumers are in fact
exercising that choice: Interconnected VoIP providers added 14.6 million subscriptions over the last four
years. Essentially, voice is becoming just another application riding over the Internet.
Yet the Communications Act was last amended when the Internet was still in its commercial
infancy. And the Act still places telephone carriers in one silo, wireless providers in another, satellite
operators in a third, and cable companies in a fourth. With the advent of IP, these legacy divisions no
longer reflect the state of technology nor the dynamic competition that’s now occurring from these
unexpected corners. Indeed, the Commission did not seriously start begin looking at over-the-top
competitors until seven years after Congress passed the 1996 Act—and although then-Chairman Powell
opened the door, we still haven’t walked through it.
None of this is news to the Subcommittee. Just last week, Committee Chairman Upton and
Subcommittee Chairman Walden announced the launch of a multi-year effort to examine how to
modernize the Communications Act to reflect the realities of a 21st century marketplace. Chairman Upton
called for laws that “make sense for today but are also ready for the innovations of tomorrow,” and
Chairman Walden stated the “goal is to make sure this critical sector of our economy thrives because of
the laws around it, not in spite of them.” I welcome the Committee’s decision to reexamine and update
the Act, and I stand ready to assist in whatever way I can.
I hope that the Committee’s recognition of the changing marketplace will encourage the FCC to
take action even sooner on the IP Transition. The American people are ahead of Washington on this
issue—they are choosing IP-enabled services at an amazing rate. Whatever policymakers do, our
country’s transition to an all-IP future will
happen. But what we at the Commission do will have a
dramatic impact on the speed and success of that transition.
There are signs that we’ve already started off on the right foot. Two years ago, the FCC’s
Technological Advisory Council under now-Chairman Wheeler’s leadership recommended that we sunset
the public switched telephone network in 2018. In July 2012, I called on the FCC to create an IP
Transition Task Force that would help us take a holistic approach to the IP Transition and focus our
deliberations on a task that so desperately needs to be done. Last December, Chairman Genachowski
created such a task force. Its labors will begin to bear fruit just next month when we consider an order
with recommendations from the task force on how to conduct a diverse set of experiments.
The most important experiment to start with, in my view, is an All-IP Pilot Program. Such a
program would allow companies to choose a discrete set of wire centers where they could turn off their
old time-division-multiplexed electronics and migrate customers to an all-IP platform. Moving forward
with an All-IP Pilot Program would send a powerful message to the private sector that we intend to
embrace the IP Transition through a data-driven process. We would signal that we won’t force carriers to
invest in both old and new networks forever. We would move closer to the day when carriers will be able
to focus exclusively on investing in the networks of tomorrow rather than maintaining the networks of
An All-IP Pilot Program is important because predictions are no substitute for hard facts. A
process conducted on paper isn’t as data-driven as a real-live experiment. To quote Blair Levin, the
father of the National Broadband Plan, an All-IP trial would be “worth a thousand pleadings.”
And conducting a trial run before implementing big changes is nothing new for the FCC. Before
we turned off analog broadcasting, then-Commissioner Copps had the good idea of testing the concept.
That experiment, which was held in Wilmington, North Carolina, provided valuable feedback and helped
make the nationwide DTV transition a success. Similarly, the FCC launched a rural healthcare pilot
program in 2007. The success of that pilot led to the creation of the Healthcare Connect Fund this past
year. Other examples abound, ranging from spectrum sharing to VoIP numbering.
What is more, the All-IP Pilot Program isn’t an issue that divides the left from the right,
Republicans from Democrats, or urban America from rural America. Endorsements range from AT&T to
the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, from Bandwidth.com to Alcatel-Lucent.
Organizations like the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the National
Grange, and the National Farmers Union also want a pilot program. So do advocacy groups like the
Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, the Asian American Federation, the League of United
Latin American Citizens, Women Impacting Public Policy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the
American Consumer Institute.
So how should we structure this experiment? Let’s start with some basic principles. One
participation in the All-IP Pilot Program should be voluntary, and pilot sites should be located in states
that are ready and willing to embrace the IP Transition. Two
, tests should ideally be conducted in a
variety of places that represent our country’s diverse geography and population. We’ll learn the most
from the pilot program if there are sites in urban, suburban, and rural communities. And we have to make
sure that low-income and minority communities are included, because the IP Transition will bring
benefits to everyone. Three
, no one should be left behind, so residential customers with fixed telephone
service today should continue to have voice service available to them even when that service is based on
IP. And business customers should know in advance what IP-based services will replace what they
currently have. And four
, we must be able to evaluate the All-IP Pilot Program in order to figure out what
worked and what didn’t. This will help us make the broader IP Transition. With empirical data in hand,
we can reject the rhetoric in favor of reason.
Of course, preparing for the IP Transition does not end with conducting an All-IP Pilot Program.
We also need to take a hard look our regulations in light of the coming transition, if for no other reason
than that the private sector needs flexibility to make investment decisions based on consumer demand, not
outdated regulatory mandates. Accordingly, I believe four principles should shape our approach to the
, we must ensure that vital consumer protections remain in place. When consumers dial 911,
they need to reach emergency personnel; it shouldn’t matter whether they are using the PSTN, a VoIP
application, or a wireless phone. The same goes for consumer privacy protections and antifraud measures
like our slamming rules. Second
, we must not import the broken, burdensome economic regulations of
the PSTN into an all-IP world. No tariffs. No arcane cost studies. And no hidden subsidies that distort
competition to benefit companies, not consumers. We must also repeal the old-world regulations such as
retail tariffing that no longer make sense in a competitive all-IP world. While they remain on the books,
wholesale expansion to IP may just be too tempting. Third
, we must retain the ability to combat discrete
market failures and protect consumers from anticompetitive harm. Fourth
, we must respect the metes and
bounds of the Communications Act and not overstep our authority.
In truth, the work of the Committee to review the Communications Act underscores the
importance of the FCC embracing the IP Transition. Over the next two years, if we conduct an All-IP
Pilot Program and take stock of the rules that should stay and those that should go in an all-IP world, we
will be able to inform Congress where we can improve our regulations ourselves and where we may need
The Universal Service Fund
Although the Communications Act of 1934 is not perfect, it does make an important promise in
its very first sentence: Congress created the Federal Communications Commission to “make available, so
far as possible, to all the people of the United States . . . a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide
wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.”
We at the FCC need to take this promise seriously. We must recognize that broadband operators
in rural America today face unique challenges. Unlike the urban environment, rural carriers must
carefully plan their infrastructure over a ten- or twenty-year time scale if they are to recover their costs.
Congress recognized this in section 254 of the Act, embedding the statutory command that universal
service support be “predictable.”
We can argue over the proper size of the Universal Service Fund, but all of us should be able to
agree that given its size, it should be distributed consistent with the law and common sense. For example,
a constant stream of reforms every year or two cannot give businesses and investors much certainty.
Instead, the Commission needs a long-term strategy and must sometimes be patient before demanding
more from the industry.
.—Take the quantile regression analysis (QRA) benchmarks created by the
Commission in the 2011 Universal Service Transformation Order
and implemented by the Wireline
Competition Bureau in the 2012 Benchmarks Order
. The QRA benchmarks are supposed to create
“structural incentives for rate-of-return companies to operate more efficiently and make prudent
expenditures.” But reality has not caught up with theory. Instead, the QRA benchmarks have resulted in
unpredictability and uncertainty, chilling the investment climate and impeding the deployment of next-
generation technologies and broadband services to rural Americans. As the Obama Administration’s
Department of Agriculture told the Commission earlier this year, “demand for [Rural Utility Service] loan
funds dropped to roughly 37% of the total amount of loan funds appropriated by Congress in [fiscal year]
Now, I am pleased that the FCC was able to implement some reforms to the QRA in February in
a decision with the punchy nickname of the “Sixth Recon Order
.” That order let carriers balance their
capital investments against their operating expenses (rather than analyzing each—and possibly penalizing
carriers for either—separately). And the Wireline Competition Bureau recently recognized that
implementing a whole new regression model in 2014 would be infeasible given our slow progress in
collecting accurate maps of each carrier’s study area.
But I still have my doubts about the utility of the QRA benchmarks as implemented. It is
important to remember that they do not save money for the Universal Service Fund, but merely
redistribute support from one set of carriers to another. The 2014 benchmarks are likely to impact
significantly more carriers than the 2013 benchmarks, all of which are based on flawed data and
inaccurate maps. And rural carriers still cannot know whether they will be able to recover investments
made today since the relevant benchmarks for those investments won’t be known until 2015. Indeed, if a
rural carrier below the cap chooses to reinvest any additional support it receives in broadband, it risks
pushing itself over the cap in future years, thus mitigating any benefit from that additional support. In
short, the Commission needs to think long and hard about the QRA benchmarks.
Connect America Fund
.—Aside from the benchmarks, there is much work still to be done to
follow up the Universal Service Transformation Order
. For example, that order reoriented the Fund to
support broadband, rather than just telephone service. And yet, the Fund still only supports telephone
service in areas served by rate-of-return carriers. It’s time for the Commission to start moving forward
with a Connect America Fund for rate-of-return carriers. This step would recognize that line loss in rural
America is real and that direct support for broadband-capable facilities, within the existing budget, is
We’re in a better position to address the needs of rural America in areas served by price-cap
carriers. The Wireline Competition Bureau, for example, has been doing yeoman’s work in modelling the
costs of deploying a next-generation network. But there’s still more to do. The FCC decided that reverse
auctions for universal service support should occur in areas where price-cap carriers decline to accept
Connect America Fund support, but the Commission has not yet moved forward on that front since
adopting the Universal Service Transformation Order
. I hope we do so soon. No part of rural America
should miss the broadband revolution while waiting for the regulatory dust to settle.
.—I am also hopeful that in the next few months, we will reform the Fund’s schools and
libraries program, better known as E-Rate. Established at the direction of Congress 16 years ago, the E-
Rate program is intended to bring advanced services to schools and libraries across America. In many
ways, the program has been a success. Internet access in public schools has almost tripled, and speeds
have grown alongside availability. Indeed, a 2010 FCC survey showed that 22 percent of respondents
were “completely” satisfied and another 58 percent were “mostly” satisfied with the bandwidth they’re
But like all federal programs, E-Rate has had its share of difficulties. For applicants, the funding
process from start to finish can stretch for years. Additionally, to navigate arcane steps like Form 470
competitive bidding, Form 471 Program Integrity Assurance review, and the Form 500 commitment
adjustment process, schools must enlist specialized E-Rate consultants, draining scarce dollars away from
students and technology. For parents, the process is so opaque that they cannot know ahead of time how
much funding their school might receive and cannot track whether it is actually spent on enriching the
education of their kids. For school boards, the priority system (under which things like paging and
Blackberry services for administrators get prioritized over connecting a classroom to the Internet) distorts
their spending decisions since some services are discounted by up to 90 percent while others may or may
not receive any discount in a given funding year. And for everyone with a phone line, and who hence
contributes to the program, it’s hard to tell what bang we’re getting for our universal service buck—there
is no meaningful transparency with respect to E-Rate spending and no real information on the impact of
There is a better way—one which would focus the E-Rate program on children. To create a
student-centered E-Rate program, we need to fundamentally rethink how we structure the program. That
means starting each school and library with an upfront allocation of funding so they know how much they
can spend. That means cutting the red tape so that the initial application is just one page and there’s only
one other form needed before funds are disbursed. That means targeting funding at next-generation
technologies like broadband and Wi-Fi while still letting local schools set their own priorities. And that
means publishing all funding and spending decisions on an easily accessible, central website so that every
parent, every journalist, every government watchdog, every American can see just how E-Rate funds are
The student-centered E-Rate program I have outlined would fulfill E-Rate’s statutory mission of
bringing advanced services to schools and libraries across the country. It would reduce waste, fraud, and
abuse in the program and increase transparency and accountability. And it would free an extra $1 billion
for next-generation services in its first year ($600 million of which is currently spent each year on basic
telephone service and other outdated technologies), all without collecting an extra dime from the
American people. Given the potential savings at hand, it would be premature to increase the program’s
budget at this time—and under no circumstances should we do so without finding corresponding new
savings elsewhere in the Universal Service Fund. We cannot ask Americans to pay even more in their
monthly phone bills, especially when median household income in this country is lower than it was in
The media landscape has undergone revolutionary change in the last few decades. But the FCC’s
rules have not kept pace with the realities of the marketplace. That is why, since joining the Commission,
I have advocated updating our regulations on a variety of fronts while at the same time preserving the
Commission’s commitment to the core values of competition, diversity, and localism.
.—The video market has changed dramatically since the Cable Act became
law in 1992. Back then, cable incumbents dominated the multichannel video programming distributor
(MVPD) market with a 95 percent market share. The vast majority of Americans could not choose
among competing MVPDs. There were only about 70 cable programming networks. And over-the-top
video providers like Netflix did not exist.
Fast forward (a term whose origins betray its age) to today. Due to the entry of satellite and
telecommunications companies into the video market, almost all Americans now have a choice of three
MVPD providers. Over one-third of Americans can choose among four. The market share of incumbent
cable operators has dropped below 55 percent of video subscribers. There are now over 500 cable and
satellite programming networks. And over-the-top video providers have entered the market and are
transforming the way that Americans consume content. Right now, for example, Netflix has more
customers than Comcast, the largest cable operator in the country, and more than every other cable
operator in the country combined. Indeed, due to the prevalence of over-the-top video, more Americans
are starting to forego video bundles offered by MVPDs altogether and instead just rely on a broadband
connection and a broadcast antenna.
Despite this revolutionary change, the FCC’s regulatory approach to cable too often remains
mired in the past, and we could use some help from Congress to remedy the situation. Currently, section
10 of the Communications Act allows the FCC to “forbear from applying any regulation or provision of
the [Communications] Act to a telecommunications carrier or telecommunications service, or a class of
telecommunications carriers or services.” Over the years, forbearance has allowed the FCC to remove
outdated regulatory burdens from telecommunications carriers. This, in turn, has encouraged
infrastructure investment and broadband deployment. That’s great, but we currently can’t take these same
steps with respect to laws and regulations aimed at MVPDs.
As one who believes in regulatory parity, this does not make sense. The video industry is
undergoing the same transformation that we are witnessing in the telecommunications sector.
Technology is turning voice and video into applications transmitted over the Internet. Former monopoly
providers are facing intense competition as we move to an all-IP world. So I believe that the FCC should
have the same authority to relieve MVPDs from obsolete rules as we currently have for carriers.
Congress, of course, would need to determine how best to structure cable forbearance. Would
such forbearance authority extend any provision of the Communications Act or just those found in the
Cable Act? Would any particular provisions of the Act be exempted from such forbearance authority
until certain conditions are met, as is done in Section 10(d) with respect to telecommunications
forbearance? These are questions that I would encourage you to consider as this Committee reexamines
the Communications Act.
.— More than one year ago, I proposed that the Commission launch an AM Radio
Revitalization Initiative. This past October, it became a reality. It’s been over two decades since we last
comprehensively reviewed our AM radio rules. Over that time, the AM band has struggled. Interference
problems, declining listenership, financial challenges for minority-owned broadcasters, and other factors
have brought the band low. But millions of Americans—myself included—still rely on and believe in
AM radio. So this initiative is close to my heart.
The Commission’s NPRM embraced a sensible two-stage strategy for improving AM radio
service. First, we proposed several ways to give AM broadcasters relief in the short term. For instance,
we suggested eliminating the “ratchet rule,” which effectively prevents AM broadcasters from improving
their facilities. We teed up modifications to the daytime and nighttime community coverage rules for
existing AM stations to better help them reach their listeners. Perhaps most importantly, we sought
public input on letting AM stations apply for new FM translators. I’m the first to acknowledge that these
and other proposals will not be an immediate panacea for the difficulties confronting the AM band. But
based on the conversations I have had with AM broadcasters across the country during the past year, I am
convinced that they can make a substantial, positive difference to numerous AM stations. Second, we
also invited the American public and stakeholders to share their proposals for the long-term future of the
AM band. What steps can the Commission take so that there will be a vibrant AM radio service ten or
fifteen years from now?
I am optimistic that broadcasters, engineers, and anyone else with an interest in AM radio will
participate in our Revitalization Initiative and submit creative ideas to the Commission. Then, after the
comment cycle closes in February, I hope that the Commission will act quickly to implement an initial set
of reforms to help the AM band.
.—The Commission is required by law to review its media ownership
regulations every four years. This cycle’s review began in September of 2009 as we announced a series
of workshops to begin gathering information from various stakeholders. Now, more than four years later,
our review is still not complete. The time has come for us to launch our next review, but we have not yet
finished the last one. This is unacceptable.
I hope that we will we move forward quickly to bring the current quadrennial review to a close
and make sensible reforms to our rules so that they reflect the marketplace realities of 2013 rather than
those of 1975. For example, I supported former Chairman Genachowski’s proposal to eliminate the
newspaper-radio and radio-television rule. I also believe that the time has come to eliminate the
newspaper-television cross-ownership rule. In this day and age, if you want to operate a newspaper, we
should be thanking you, not placing regulatory barriers in your path. I am a realist and understand that
whatever reforms we end up implementing will not go as far as I might prefer. But I do believe that we
should be able to find common ground and move forward with some sensible reforms.
I continue to have serious concerns, however, about proposals that are under discussion to make
Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) and/or Shared Services Agreements (SSAs) attributable under our local
television ownership rule. As broadcasters’ share of the advertising market has shrunk in the digital age,
television stations must be able to enter into innovative, pro-competitive arrangements in order to operate
efficiently. JSAs and SSAs allow stations to save costs and to provide the services that we should want
television broadcasters to offer.
In my home state, for example, a JSA between two Wichita stations enabled the Entravision
station, a Univision affiliate, to introduce the only Spanish-language local news in Kansas. Across the
border in Joplin, Missouri, a JSA between Nexstar and Mission Broadcasting not only led to expanded
news programming in that market but also nearly $3.5 million in capital investment. Some of that money
was spent upgrading the stations’ Doppler Radio system, which probably saved lives when a devastating
tornado destroyed much of Joplin in 2011.
For stations in smaller markets like Wichita and Joplin, the choice isn’t between JSAs or having
both television stations operate independent news departments. Rather, the real choice is between JSAs
and having at most one television station continue to provide news programming while the other does not.
If the FCC effectively prohibits these agreements, fewer stations in small-town America will offer news
programming, and they will invest less in newsgathering. And the economics suggest that there likely
will be fewer television stations, period.
.—Speaking of our media ownership rules, the Commission moved forward in
September with an NPRM proposing to eliminate the UHF discount portion of our national television
ownership rule. Given the transition from analog to digital television, there is a strong case for ending the
UHF discount; UHF signals are not inferior to VHF signals in the digital world. Unfortunately, the
Commission’s NPRM went about it the wrong way.
We should not modify the UHF discount without simultaneously reviewing the national audience
cap, which currently stands at 39 percent. The NPRM recognized the interdependent relationship
between the national audience cap and the UHF discount, acknowledging that “elimination of the UHF
discount would impact the calculation of nationwide audience reach for broadcast station groups with
UHF stations.” Or, to put the matter succinctly, eliminating the UHF discount would substantially tighten
the national ownership limit. For example, one company that is now more than 19 percentage points
under the cap would be only three points below the cap if the UHF discount were eliminated.
I was therefore disappointed that we proposed to end the UHF discount without asking whether it
is time to raise the 39 percent cap. Indeed, this step is long overdue, notwithstanding any
change to the
UHF discount. The Commission has not formally addressed the appropriate level of the national audience
cap since its 2002 Biennial Review Order, and it has been about a decade since the 39 percent cap was
established. As I mentioned earlier, the media landscape is dramatically different today than it was then.
I’ve spoken a lot about the importance of reviewing our rules to keep pace with changes in technology
and the marketplace, and I wish that the NPRM had addressed the national television rule in a
I also had serious concerns about how the NPRM addressed grandfathering. While I was pleased
that the item at least proposed to grandfather existing combinations that would exceed the 39 percent cap
if the UHF discount were eliminated as well as combinations that would exceed such a cap because of an
application that was currently pending with the Commission, this did not go far enough. In my view, any
combination that is in existence or pending with the Commission as of the date the UHF discount rule is
eliminated should be grandfathered. Rules should not be effective before they are effective.
Unfortunately, the Commission lost sight of what the NPRM actually did. It only proposed to
eliminate the UHF discount. It did not actually end the UHF discount. The UHF discount is still law of
the land today and will be every day after until the Commission votes to repeal it. Through its
grandfathering proposal, however, the NPRM effectively told the private marketplace to behave as if the
UHF discount had already been eliminated, thus treating the rest of the rulemaking process as an empty
formality. The practical results of this “sentence first, verdict afterward” approach will be to dampen the
market for broadcast transactions and depress station values.
.—And finally, over a year ago, I called upon the Commission to modernize
its approach to foreign investment in broadcasting. And the declaratory ruling we issued at our
November meeting takes a solid step in that direction. While I wished we had gone further, by revising
our interpretation of Section 310(b)(4) of the Communications Act to eliminate the obsolete de facto
on foreign investment of more than 25 percent in U.S. broadcast holding companies, and inviting
broadcasters to submit information for case-by-case reviews of potential ownership structures, the
declaratory ruling should invigorate American broadcasting and increase minority ownership.
The Commission recognized earlier this year in its Second Report and Order
ownership of common carriers that foreign investment can be an “important source of financing . . .
innovation, economic growth and job creation” in the telecommunications sector. The same is true for
broadcasters. And since joining the Commission, I have heard the same message over and over again
when it comes to ownership diversity: The biggest obstacle to minority ownership in the broadcast
industry is the lack of access to capital. That is why the Minority Media and Telecommunications
Council and 30 other national minority and civil rights organizations told us that permitting additional
foreign investment in the broadcasting industry would be “one of the most significant steps the
Commission could take” “[t]o reverse the decline in minority broadcast ownership.” With an expanded
ability to access capital from abroad, minority entrepreneurs will have a better chance of being able to
enter into the broadcast industry or expand existing businesses. Indeed, this issue demonstrates how
regulation can serve as a barrier to minority ownership and how modernizing our rules can promote
Modernizing FCC Processes
Before concluding, I would like to touch on a subject that affects all areas of the Commission’s
work: process reform. This Subcommittee has been a leader on this issue, and I commend your efforts.
The Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act, for example, would modernize
the Commission’s reporting obligations and free up Commission resources to work on other important
projects. It passed the House of Representatives unanimously this year, and I hope that it is soon enacted
into law. And just this week the bipartisan leadership of the Subcommittee introduced reforms that would
set aright the FCC’s procedures and improve our long-term performance.
The FCC, however, should not and need not sit still waiting for Congress to act. We should do
what we can on our own to improve our internal processes. Our goal should be clear: The FCC should
be as nimble as the industry that we oversee. All too often, proceedings at the Commission needlessly
drag on for many years. In an oversight hearing last year before this Subcommittee, for example, two
Members—one Republican and one Democrat—asked about proceedings that had been pending at the
Commission for about a decade. While I am pleased that the agency finally did take action in those two
proceedings in the months following the hearing, it shouldn’t take inquiries from Congress for the
Commission to complete its work. And consumers shouldn’t have to wait for years for their complaints
to be answered.
The good news is that we are making progress on this front. Commissioners are voting on items
more quickly after they are placed on circulation. The time between the adoption and the release of items
has decreased, and we have reduced the FCC’s backlog. And yet, we still have much room for
Since taking office, I have proposed a variety of reforms to improve the Commission’s
performance. We should streamline our internal processes where possible. For example, let’s adopt a
procedure akin to the U.S. Supreme Court’s certiorari
process for handling applications for review. Let’s
speed up our processing of smaller transactions. Let’s establish more internal deadlines, such as a nine-
month deadline for ruling on applications for review and petitions for reconsideration along with a six-
month deadline for handling waiver requests. And when we adopt industry-wide rules, let’s more
frequently use sunset clauses that require us to eventually revisit the wisdom of (and, if necessary, revise
or repeal) those rules.
Beyond reforming our rules, we should become more accountable to the public and to Congress
about how long it takes the Commission to do its work. One way to do this would be by creating an FCC
Dashboard on our website that collects in one place key performance metrics. Let’s keep track of how
many petitions for reconsideration, applications for review, waiver requests, license renewal applications,
and consumer complaints are pending at the Commission at any given time. And let’s compare the
current statistics in all these categories against those from a year ago, from five years ago, so everyone
can see if we are headed in the right direction. If we make it easier for others to hold us accountable for
our performance, I’m confident that we would act with more dispatch.
I am pleased that Chairman Wheeler has made process reform a priority. He has asked
experienced counsel Diane Cornell to focus specifically on this issue, and I look forward to working with
her over the coming months and years. My emphasis on acting promptly is not just about good
government. It is also about the impact that the FCC’s decisions (or lack thereof) have on our economy.
As the pace of technological change accelerates, so too must the pace at the Commission. We can’t let
regulatory inertia frustrate technological progress or deter innovation.
* * *
As you can see, we have a lot of issues on our plate right now, and the stakes are high. But with a
full Commission in place, and by consulting with Congress, I’m confident that we can discharge our
responsibilities in a way that will serve the public interest. Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Eshoo,
and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you once again for holding this hearing and allowing me the
opportunity to share my perspective with you. I look forward to answering your questions and continuing
to work with you and your staff in the future.