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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While the pall of scandals and alleged scandals in the nation’s capital may have many voters thinking of the Beltway as a dysfunctional wasteland, the reality is that much of the machinery of government is, in fact, going full throttle trying to create jobs and spur growth. Only you wouldn’t know it from the daily news cycle.

At my old agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Chairman Ajit Pai is focused on positive changes to outdated rules and is proceeding with major initiatives combined with a refreshing commitment to openness.


Historically, the FCC kept the text of its proposed reforms locked up behind closed doors until after a vote by the full commission (try explaining the logic of that to a voter). In the case of the agency’s 2015 Open Internet Order, despite a call for openness by then-Commissioner Pai, the FCC never even released a draft decision, despite sweeping changes from the agency’s original proposal. And it continued to hide the new rules from public view for two full weeks even after the agency voted to enact them.

By contrast, Mr. Pai, with the bipartisan support from his fellow commissioners, reversed this process and the FCC now makes the text of every proposed major rule making public at least three weeks before any final vote.

This is nearly unprecedented in recent history, and it puts an end to backroom deal-making that excludes input from any and all interested parties. Score one for returning governance to the people.

The FCC is utilizing this new transparent and rigorous process to revisit the Open Internet rules consistent with its statutory mandate, and with a focus on promoting Internet investment and creating high-tech jobs. This effort will restore the traditional light-touch regulatory approach that unleashes creativity and competition and, hopefully, it will turn around the brutal $2.4 billion drop in broadband investment we have experienced during these last two years of Title II, monopoly-era government oversight. For those who doubt the impact of excessive regulation on corporate investment, it is important to note that this is the first such backslide in Internet deployment since the Great Recession.

Mr. Pai has his critics, of course. They claim that eliminating Title II utility regulation will undermine Internet openness and “net neutrality.” My view is that net neutrality and Internet freedom has always been the norm and will continue to be the norm in the absence of paternalistic federal rules. All Internet providers have committed to such openness and the Federal Trade Commission is readily able to police those commitments. Moreover, there is bipartisan support in Congress to enact an even farther-reaching and permanent net neutrality law, which will truly bring the issue to a close.

In a classic case of “no good deed goes unpunished,” some of Mr. Pai’s critics have taken issue with the FCC’s release of the updated proposed new rules on the eve of Thanksgiving. But it was Mr. Pai’s predecessor, a Democratic chairman, who set the Dec. 14 meeting date, and Mr. Pai is simply releasing the proposed order three weeks in advance of that vote consistent with this new approach toward more transparency.

I suspect those who criticize this extended-time, open-books policy because of the release of a draft order on a holiday week are really simply in disagreement with the underlying decision and are not seriously concerned with the transparency process. To be clear, Mr. Pai has set a new standard for openness between the public release of his original proposal, the long period he allowed for public comment, and now the public release of his draft order.

Mr. Pai has the same goals and vision as most Americans — a free and open Internet available to every American, access to affordable fixed and mobile high-speed broadband in every home, school, library and business, and a competitive, jobs-producing communications marketplace with expanding investment and innovation. No party has a monopoly on the best ideas for protecting consumers or serving the public interest — there are legitimately different perspectives on how to achieve these shared goals.

And the differences of opinion on how best to pursue these goals is fair game. But arguing that the chairman has been anything but transparent about his plans and policies is disingenuous. Mr. Pai has been forthright and open, and he is showing that even in an age of gridlock and partisanship to the extreme, Washington can still get things done — not always in perfect harmony, but driven by a commitment to transparency, fairness and the public interest.

Kathleen Abernathy is special counsel at Wilkinson Barket Knauer LLP. She served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from 2001 to 2005.


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