New Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai will get a chance to clue in lawmakers about his plans for net neutrality, wrapping up the broadcast spectrum auction and rewriting media ownership rules when he and fellow FCC members appear before a Senate panel Wednesday, March 8.
The Senate Commerce Committee will hold an oversight hearing examining the FCC's operations Wednesday.
One of the hottest topics is likely to be Pai's Feb. 28 announcement that he plans to end the net neutrality rules imposed during the Obama administration, which the former president supported.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said the FCC members should expect questions "covering every aspect of the agency and major policy issues before the commission."
Pai, a constant critic of broadband regulations imposed by the FCC during the tenure of his predecessor in the chairman's seat, Barack Obama appointee Tom Wheeler, told the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, two weeks ago that unless the U.S. steps away from what he sees as Wheeler's heavy-handed net neutrality rules and other interventions in the communications industry, telecom providers will be reluctant to spend the billions necessary to roll out infrastructure for 5G networks.
Since the FCC's net neutrality rules were imposed in 2015, Pai has called for them to be rescinded, and with a Republican majority on the commission, he's in a position to make that happen. Although two seats on the commission are open, he is joined by fellow Republican O'Rielly. Clyburn is a Democrat.
The current rules prevent owners of telecom infrastructure operating in homes and businesses, that also offer their own Internet content, from discriminating against the traffic of rival content providers. Critics of the rules say they prevent infrastructure owners such as Verizon (VZ) and Comcast (CMCSA) from managing the volume of traffic on their networks and benefiting rivals that don't have their own networks, such as Alphabet's Google (GOOGL) , Amazon (AMZN) and Netflix (NFLX) .
Supporters of Wheeler's rules say they will fight to preserve them. Repeal of the rules "is by no means a done deal," Gigi Sohn, an Open Society Foundations Fellow and former counselor to Wheeler, wrote in a column for Axios. "Like [with] the Affordable Care Act, Americans won't sit by and allow rules that have protected their ability to use the most important communications network in history to be taken from them. Policymakers should brace for an enormous battle over the future of the internet."
On Capitol Hill, repeal of the regulations has been opposed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
Sen. Thune has endorsed Pai's critique of the net neutrality rules.
Pai and his colleagues are also likely to be asked about the complex government auction for wireless spectrum licenses that is drawing to a close.
The auction entered its final phase in January and the auction's anti-collusion provisions are likely to expire in early March, a development that would allow some big players in the telecom business to start talking M&A. They include TV station owners, pay-TV companies such as Comcast and Dish Network (DISH) , and wireless carriers AT&T (T) , T-Mobile USA and Verizon will soon be able to start talking M&A.