What Does an Administration Change Mean for the FCC?

Just as the last change in administration changed the course of the FCC, so will the swing back to a Democratic administration. If you’ve been reading me for a few years you know I am a big believer in the regulatory pendulum. Inevitably, when a regulatory agency like the FCC swings too far in any direction, it’s inevitable that it will eventually swing back the other way.

If I had to characterize the current FCC, the biggest theme of the last four years has been their stances that were exceedingly in favor of the big carriers. In ruling after ruling they helped to fulfill the wish list of the big telcos and cable companies – with nothing bigger than the nearly complete deregulation of broadband. The term deregulation isn’t even the right word because the current FCC took themselves out of the game as regulators. Chairman Ajit Pai has characterized their treatment of broadband as light-touch regulation, but it went way beyond that and the FCC eliminated its own ability to regulate broadband.

A new FCC is almost surely going to try to re-regulate broadband, and they are likely to do so by pushing for the introduction of net neutrality. This is not going to be an easy task. Obviously a new FCC can undo things done by a former FCC, but by completely writing the agency out of the regulatory game, the new FCC will have to start over from scratch. They are going to have to go through the full cycle of steps required to reintroduce any semblance of broadband re-regulation. That means adopting a policy, seeking several rounds of public comments, and then finally voting to reintroduce net neutrality and other broadband regulation. Then will come the inevitable lawsuits that will tack more time onto the process. I’m bettering we’re three years into a new FCC before we see broadband regulation back on the books.

As part of re-regulation process, a new FCC will likely put back the FCC complaint process. Most of America doesn’t realize that the current FCC does nothing with customer complaints about ISPs – complaints are simply forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission.

Hopefully, a new FCC will continue with the process of setting aside unused spectrum for rural broadband. This is one of the few areas where the current FCC stood up to big carriers – but those carriers weren’t really bothered since they don’t use most licensed spectrum in rural markets.

I’m hoping the new FCC takes a hard look at the disaster of broadband reporting and mapping. The current FCC has delayed implementation of new mapping for several years – I’ve always believed that they don’t want to see an honest count of rural homes without broadband because the numbers will be double of what the FCC claims today.

I think a new FCC will update the national definition of broadband. It’s a travesty to continue to define broadband at 25/3 Mbps when eighty percent of America buys broadband from cable or fiber companies. The main outcome of an update of the definition of broadband will hopefully be an honestly count of homes that have inferior broadband. An added bonus will be that slow broadband technologies should stop being eligible for federal grant funding. A new definition of broadband needs to recognize the new crisis of slow upload speeds that have made it so miserable for workers and students send home during the pandemic.

I hope the new FCC gets off the 5G bandwagon. The current FCC blindly followed the administration in pushing the story that America is losing the mythical 5G war. Outside of 5G the current FCC has been in favor of letting the markets solve technology issues. 5G will be whatever it’s going to be, and our national regulators should be not be pushing 5G or hindering it – they just need to stay out of the way of market progress.

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