Love or hate his agenda, but Pai makes good on transparency pledge

7 March 2017 by Steve Blum
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Less than six weeks into his term as chairman, Ajit Pai is making significant, and welcome, reforms to the way the Federal Communications Commission does business. There’s plenty of room to take issue with the substance of some of the decisions that the new republican FCC majority has made, or plans to make, but the way it’s going about doing it is far more transparent than past practices were, including particularly those of recently departed chairman Tom Wheeler.

In the past, draft FCC decisions were kept secret, at least from the public. Well-heeled lobbyists always seemed to know what was in the works, and sometimes knew more than commissioners themselves. When democrats had control, Pai complained bitterly about Wheeler’s secrecy, and now he’s resisted the temptation to claim that power for himself.

For the first time in my memory, we know the details of all six of the major decisions that the FCC will be considering at its next meeting on 23 March 2017. Along with the tentative agenda, the FCC published the drafts last week. The language could change over the next three weeks and, unlike the California Public Utilities Commission, the FCC can still make and vote on major changes without disclosing them ahead of time, but at least we have a good idea of what those decisions will be.

Pai hasn’t been 100% squeaky clean and transparent. He was rightly ripped by democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn for a Friday news dump, when he scrapped several orders and actions taken in the waning days of the Obama administration, including an enquiry into mobile carriers’ zero rating practices and a white paper that laid out a broadband development road map. But on the whole he’s keeping his promise to shine more light onto the murky deliberations and dealings at the FCC and he deserves credit for it.