Monday, January 23, 2017

An Open Letter to FCC Chairman-Nominee Ajit Pai

Dear Commissioner Pai:

Congratulations on your likely nomination to become Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.  For the good of everyone in the country, I hope you will lead the Commission with decorum, pragmatism and collegiality, no matter how real your prior grievances.  You owe everyone a renewed commitment toward humility, grace and an open mind, despite real or perceived justifications for snarkiness, sanctimony and hubris.

I am greatly disappointed that the FCC has become so partisan and fractious.  Far too many years ago, Commissioners of both Parties sought compromise rather than self-aggrandizement and accommodation of a few key stakeholders.  The public interest served as a goal worth identifying and serving.

As recently as 2005, all Commissioners could reach closure on basic principles of the role of the FCC in helping shape the Internet.  Every Commissioner agreed that the FCC could achieve a greater good with well-calibrated oversight and a limited regulatory regime, neither interventionist nor libertarian.  This agreement did not take a lot of pages, did not originate in the word processor of an outside law firm, or consultant and did not require endorsement by sponsored researchers, political parties and the most vocal and deep pocketed stakeholders.

Going further back in time, the Republican Party’s public interest mandate included rigorous antitrust enforcement and a commitment to a level competitive playing field.  You might not know that in true Teddy Roosevelt fashion, President Nixon’s Justice Department started the litigation that eventually resulted in the divestiture of AT&T and the unleashing of competitive energies.

I hope you will take every effort to achieve consensus which used to be the usual outcome of matters before the FCC.  Issues did not have a Republican position and an opposite Democratic one.  Most votes were unanimous, because fair minded Commissioners—led by a fair-minded Chairman—could achieve a just and proper outcome, even if it disappointed a major incumbent.

No one had to overreach, or grandstand.  No one had to write 50 page dissents.  No one dared resort to smugness, righteous indignation and arrogance.

I share your excitement about the promise of telecommunications and information technology to enhance national welfare and make life better for all.  Such potential makes it that much more important that you strive to lead by example and refrain from using your considerable power to settle all the grudges you bear.

Best wishes for a successful Chairmanship.

Sincerely,

Rob Frieden, Pioneers Chair and Professor of Telecommunications and Law
Pennsylvania State University

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