Is Porkies Pai planning an 'alternative numbers' factory?

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Dec 13, 2018

Ajit Pai: possible new FCC chairman?

Ajit Pai: possible new FCC chairman?

  • The FCC chairman has had difficulty getting his numbers and narratives aligned
  • Maybe the best idea is to establish an FCC Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA) to
  • "consistently and thoroughly incorporate economic and data analysis into the policy-making work of the agency"

One important Porkies Pai idea behind the scrapping of net neutrality was that lifting the ‘burden’ of regulation would boost investment in US broadband.

Pai critics say, however, that it’s difficult to tell if there’s been any improvement because official (government-funded) speed test data is no longer being released by the FCC and no reasonable explanation has been forthcoming.

Net neutrality advocates are furious. Here’s Cory Doctorow deploying some lacerating sarcasm on his site, BoingBoing. 

“It's a real head-scratcher,” he says of the disappearing speed data. ”Surely releasing the telcos that used to employ Pai from any kind of public responsibility or regulatory oversight must have resulted in a surge of investment and better value for money for the Americans who are paying Pai's wages during his brief holiday from his service as a senior telecoms executive. You'd think that he'd want to trumpet that news from the hilltops, right? I wonder why he won't release that data.

It's just so weird,” says Cory.

In fact Pai has been bedevilled by numbers and studies that flat out contradict his net neutrality and regulatory narratives.

Sometimes these snafus are generated by uncoordinated allies and supporters. One such was telco lobby organisation, USTelecom, which produced an analysis charting a rise in fiber deployment from 21 per cent to 29 per cent of homes from the end of 2015 to mid-2017. The analysis was supposed to back up the FCC by illustrating the progress achieved by US fibre builders, but unfortunately it inadvertently showed that steady fibre growth had continued under the apparently hated, investment-killing common carriage regulation (net neutrality) introduced by Obama in 2015. An outrage that had not ended until this year. Oops!

Clearly a case of uncoordinated message mongering.


What to do?

I think Pai thinks he’s found a solution:  “Alternative numbers.” Like alternative facts but given a veneer of scientific respectability along with a very large dollop of carefully constructed analysis and scenario creation.

Now, Pai could presumably hire heavy-weight think tanks or august analyst groups to come up with the goods when required, but that can be messy. Plus he’d inevitably get another bunch of think-tankers anxious to make a name for themselves by calling out his key findings as the rubbish they are.

What you want is your own internal numbers and messaging organisation with the weight of the Agency right behind it.

And here it is..

FCC opens Office of Economics and Analytics

New Office Will Help Incorporate Economic Analysis into FCC Policy-Making

WASHINGTON, December 11, 2018—Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai today announced the official opening of the FCC’s Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA).  This new office will help consistently and thoroughly incorporate economic and data analysis into the policy-making work of the agency. 


“The communications sector is a major part of America’s economy, and our rules can substantially affect incentives of companies and consumers.  This makes it essential that we systematically incorporate sound economics in our work,” said Chairman Pai.  “This new office will ensure that strong economic analysis and data analytics inform our efforts.  I want to thank all the staff involved in the process of establishing this office; your work will have a lasting and positive impact on the Commission’s policies and structure.  I also want to specifically thank Wayne Leighton for his leadership during this transition.”


OEA strengthens and centralizes the role of economic analysis by housing the vast majority of Commission economists in one office, including the entire staff of the former Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.  The new office includes four divisions:


  • The Economic Analysis Division, which provides analytical and quantitative support for rulemakings, transactions, reviews, adjudications, and other matters. 
  • The Industry Analysis Division, which designs and administers significant, economically-relevant data collections. 
  • The Auctions Division, which leads auction design and implementation issues, including for spectrum and universal service auctions. 
  • The Data Division, which develops and implements best practices, processes, and standards for data management. 


“We are excited to have our new office up and running,” said Giulia McHenry, Acting Chief of OEA.  “This will be a single office to bring together the great economic and data work already being done by FCC staff.  We look forward to helping the Chairman, Commissioners, and other staff to ensure economics is a central consideration in our work.”


Better integration of economic analysis into the FCC’s work has been one of Chairman Pai’s top priorities.  In April 2017, he proposed the idea of establishing a new office with this focus.  A staff-led working group then studied the idea and issued a report, which was incorporated into Commission’s final Order establishing the office.  Today, having received the required Congressional approvals and with formal notice in the Federal Register, the FCC’s Office of Economics and Analytics is now up and running:


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