FCC Chairman Vows Independence from Trump on Media Issues

Keep up with the latest developments and legal issues in the telecommunications and emerging technology sectors, with exclusive access to a comprehensive collection of telecommunications law news,...

By Kyle Daly

The White House hasn’t weighed in at the Federal Communications Commission on media regulation or merger reviews, including AT&T Inc.'s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Inc., commission chairman Ajit Pai told a Senate committee July 19.

Pai said the Trump administration hasn’t pushed the FCC to favor or punish any media organizations and, if it did, he would refuse and inform Congress of the attempt.

“If I were ever asked by anyone in the administration to take retaliatory action, for instance, in a media regulatory proceeding, I would not do so,” Pai said during his Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing.

President Donald Trump has tapped Pai for a second term on the commission.

Several Democratic senators cited Trump’s public criticisms of some major news organizations. The lawmakers voiced concerns that Trump might try to pressure the FCC on the AT&T-Time Warner deal, which is not currently under agency review, or to give favorable treatment to the acquisition of Tribune Media Co. by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.

AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Inc. are expected to avoid making any broadcast or cable system license transfers that would require FCC review.

Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), told reporters after the hearing that he doesn’t share his Democratic counterparts’ concerns that the Trump White House might attempt to use the FCC as a cudgel against media outlets.

Carr’s Independence Questioned

Pai appeared alongside Trump nominees Brendan Carr and Jessica Rosenworcel, whom Trump has tapped for open Republican and Democratic commission seats respectively.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the panel’s ranking member, said he is skeptical Carr will be sufficiently independent from Pai. Nelson repeatedly asked Carr to name a time he’s disagreed with Pai on a matter before the commission. Carr, currently the FCC’s general counsel, was a top adviser to Pai when Pai was a GOP commissioner at the Democrat-controlled agency during the Barack Obama administration.

Carr said Pai “didn’t always agree” with advice he gave as an adviser and general counsel. But he declined to cite any specific instances of disagreement between the two.

“That is not confidence-building for those of us who are wondering about your future independence from your boss,” Nelson said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Daly in Washington at kdaly@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Tech & Telecom on Bloomberg Law