Yesterday, I delivered remarks announcing my plans to repeal the Commission’s heavy-handed “Title II” regulation of the Internet and return the United States to the bipartisan, light-touch regulatory framework that preserved a free and open Internet for almost 20 years. To kick off this process, I’ve shared with my fellow Commissioners and the American public a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that seeks public input on the best path forward. This proposal will headline the Commission’s May open meeting, but it’s hardly the only piece of business we’ll be considering. Having already detailed my proposal to free the Internet from Depression-era regulation, I’d like to highlight the other items on our May docket.
While they may not have received as much attention as my Title II rollback plan, I also previewed two items from our May agenda in a recent speech at the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual gathering in Las Vegas.
The first is an item to initiate a comprehensive review of our media rules to identify which ones are still necessary and which should be relaxed or repealed. We not only want to root out antiquated rules that have outlived their usefulness, we also want to explore whether certain rules should be modified to provide regulatory relief to small businesses. If approved, this item would solicit public input on which rules to modify and why.
With close to 1,000 pages of rules on the books regulating broadcast, cable, and satellite television, many of them decades old, I’m confident this inquiry would uncover some candidates for reform. (Note: this review will not cover the FCC’s media ownership regulations, which the Commission is already obligated by statute to review on a regular basis.)
A second media item on our May agenda would eliminate one such counterproductive rule, which we have already identified. To enable and encourage community input, each AM, FM, and television broadcast station is currently required by FCC rule to maintain a “main studio” that is located in or near its community of license. But thanks to technological innovations, notably the online “public file,” we can give broadcasters additional flexibility by repealing the “main studio” rule without sacrificing transparency or community engagement. In three weeks, the Commission will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that tees up eliminating the Commission’s main studio rule for both radio and television broadcasters. My thanks to Commissioner O’Rielly for championing this cause.
Next on the agenda will be a proposal to revise a rule that has directly harmed rural consumers. In connection with the FCC’s 2011 reforms of the FCC’s subsidy program known as the Universal Service Fund (USF), the Commission required recipients of USF subsidies to impose minimum monthly rates for telephone service. The thinking then was that the law calls for rates to be “reasonably comparable” and that customers needed to pay a certain minimum rate to make sure that subsidies weren’t being wasted. The problem is this so-called “rate floor” now forces many rural customers to pay higher rates than some of their urban counterparts, including those in Washington, DC. It seems to me that the last thing the FCC should do is mandate price increases for rural consumers above rates paid by some of their urban counterparts, especially considering that average incomes in rural areas tend to be lower than those in cities. Also, the law requires “just, reasonable, and affordable” rates, which the rate floor doesn’t seem to respect. The FCC therefore will be voting on an NPRM to eliminate this “rate floor” and related reporting requirements. We also be voting to immediately freeze the rate floor to prevent rural telephone rates from rising in July.
The Commission will also consider a Report and Order that would amend our rules regarding wireless devices such as walkie-talkies, CB radios and remote-control toys — what we call Personal Radio Services. These devices generally use low-power transmitters, communicate over shared radio frequencies, and (with a few exceptions) do not require an individual FCC license for each user. The Commission will be voting to complete a thorough review of our Personal Radio Services rules in order to modernize them, remove outdated regulatory requirements, and reorganize them to make it easier to find information.
Finally, the Commission will be taking up a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to streamline our rules that govern the antennas (earth stations) used to provide satellite based services to ships, airplanes and vehicles on the ground. The regulation of these earth stations, collectively known as “earth stations in motion” (ESIMs), currently varies depending on the type of vehicle to which they are attached. We will consider new rules for the operation of ESIMs that would eliminate redundancies, reduce the burden on our applicants, and allow FCC staff to process applications more quickly.
No question, my proposal to repeal Title II regulation and restore Internet freedom will garner most of the headlines on May 18. But make no mistake: the FCC will be taking up a diverse array of proposals to modernize our rules and deliver benefits to consumers.