Yesterday was FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s final monthly meeting before his resignation next week. It was also the first for new Commissioner Nathan Simington, who said he was “honored” to be there. Commissioners heard presentations from agency staff summing up bureau accomplishments over the last four years.
Much of the time was spent with Pai lauding agency staff and fellow Commissioners wishing him well. Pai said he wore the same suit for this, his 105th meeting, that he did for his first when he began as a Commissioner in 2012.
Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, also a Kansas native, said during the FCC meeting that he and Pai share a love for the Kansas City Chiefs. Pai was “always gracious and welcoming,” said Starks, who called the outgoing chair a true example of “Kansas nice.”
Colleague Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, said to be named Acting Chair and likely permanent Chair by experts, thanked Pai for his years of public service. “Let me also praise him for the work he has done to help keep those who work here safe during this pandemic. He went above and beyond to keep the staff of this agency informed and engaged in a time of real crisis. For this he deserves great credit and appreciation.”
Rosenworcel worked for many years on Capitol Hill. Of last week’s riots, she said: “To see those sacred spaces desecrated stings. To see those gorgeous floors smeared with feces and hate hurts. To see the Confederate flag paraded across those tiles sears and burns.”
Speaking broadly about FCC work still to be done, she said Congress recently directed the agency to establish an Emergency Broadband Benefit to expand access to high-speed connections and help those struggling in the ongoing economic crisis. Lawmakers tasked the Commission with expanded support for telehealth and provided funding that will make the nation’s networks more powerful and secure. Rosenworcel also cited an issue she has worked on for years, closing the homework gap. “This is what lies ahead.”
Pai has said many times that when his parents immigrated here from India in 1971, one of the few possessions they brought was a radio. He told reporters after the meeting he believes the agency under his tenure helped broadcasting. He noted his hometown radio station KLKC-AM, Parsons, KS now has an FM translator to better carry the station’s signal. He’s also a champion of AMs going all-digital. “The future is brighter than we might think” for radio, he said, noting that “local content matters,” especially when many are stuck at home during the pandemic. He thanked broadcasters for giving him advice over the years.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief