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NAB 17: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Delivers Anti-Regulation Keynote

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Anyone looking for direction from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai on the contentious issue of net neutrality was disappointed. Pai delivered an NAB Show keynote address this morning that was long on pop culture references and folksy values, rich with anti-regulation vows, and almost devoid of any mention of the internet.

Speaking to an audience of broadcast owners, politicians, and present and former FCC staffers, Pai promised to lead a comprehensive review of the FCC's media regulations, an initiative he said he had launched this morning. Rules that get on the books stay on the books, he said, blaming Washington D.C. inertia. There are currently 1,000 pages of media regulations on the books, he noted, adding, "I'm trying to change that."

On May 18, the commission will vote on a comprehensive review of the FCC's media regulations, Pai said, including rules governing cable and satellite. His goal is to match the rules with the reality broadcasters face in 2017. A call to eliminate the main studio rule, which dictates that radio and TV stations keep their main studio in or near the city where they have a license, drew applause. Eliminating the rule will allow companies to save money by collocating office space, he said.

Pai praised the work of traditional broadcasters, noting that people still depend on local sources for news and emergency information, the majority of viewers still watch shows on broadcast TV, and 93 percent regularly listen to the radio. "I remain fundamentally optimistic about the future of broadcasting," Pai said. "I don't see the free market as the enemy of localism."

Pai spoke of the move to ATSC 3.0—a collection of standards that will bring 4K and high dynamic range video to broadcast television—calling it a priority and saying the FCC should promote broadcasting innovation, not stand in its way.

While Pai found time in his brief address to talk about AM radio revitalization, he didn't refer to any internet-centric policies. He's expected to unveil net neutrality plans tomorrow, but made no mention of the subject today. Pai's FCC has been especially friendly to big business so far, at the expense of user privacy. His only mention of the internet was saying current media ownership rules ignore it.

"This is an exciting time for the broadcast industry," Pai said, one with fast changes and new opportunities, where standing still is falling behind. "I'll do my best to get unnecessary rules out of the way so that broadcasters can rev that engine."

Pai's address lasted 20 minutes. He took no questions.

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