A change of administration will bring a change at the FCC as the majority swings from Republican to Democratic. I’ve always maintained a regulatory wish list, and the following are my hopes for what we’ll see out of the new FCC. Note that these aren’t predictions – just my own hopes.
Keep the Politics Out. This was added to the blog as it went to press. There is talk of a new Congress refusing to seat a new Chairman and a fifth commissioner in an attempt to thwart any attempt to re-regulate broadband. That would be a disaster for the industry (as it would be for any other regulatory agency). A partisan FCC with no voting majority is going to accomplish very little and will deadlock on most issues.
Kill the Seventh Year of CAF II. The CAF II program that handed over $10 billion to the big telcos to upgrade rural America to 10/1 Mbps broadband was a total bust. To rub salt into the wounds for the failed program, the current FCC just awarded the big telcos an additional $2.5 billion in a seventh year of subsidy – a payment for which the ISPs have no expected performance obligations. It’s just free money. I hope a new FCC kills that funding and uses that money to support new rural broadband.
Adopt a Realistic Definition of Broadband. It’s unbelievable that the current FCC is sticking to 25/3 Mbps as the definition of broadband. The FCC proudly claims in the 2020 report to Congress that 85% of homes in the country can buy broadband of at least 250/25 Mbps (a claim I think is overstated). If the FCC thinks that claim is true, then how can they think that the remaining 15% of homes deserve only one-tenth of the broadband speeds available to everybody else?
Fix the Damned Maps. The FCC has dallied for a few years to pull the trigger for new mapping, always with some excuse. They need to make this happen and make it happen right. The current FCC plans still don’t penalize ISPs for reporting marketing speeds instead of actual speeds. Unless that problem is fixed, any new mapping will be just as dreadful as existing mapping. And please, don’t hand out any more giant grants based upon badly flawed maps.
Stop Funding Slow Broadband Technologies. It’s mind-boggling that the current RDOF grants allow technologies as slow as 25/3 Mbps to claim grant funds – for a program that allows six years to implement the funded solution. That means that not only does the FCC pretend that 25/3 Mbps is adequate broadband today, but they are willing to saddle parts of rural America with those speeds for the next decade.
Bring Back Broadband Regulation. This FCC gutted broadband regulation. It probably raises eyebrows to see me ask for the return of regulation, but the FCC can’t currently even scold big ISPs for abusing customers. It’s highly unlikely that any FCC would go so far as to implement rate regulation, but one of the most important industries in the country needs a cop at the top to protect citizens against monopoly abuses.
Drop the 5G Rhetoric. The FCC has no business pushing 5G as the solution to everything broadband. The FCC is an independent agency. While the administration and Congress have every right to climb aboard the 5G bus, the FCC is supposed to be a neutral regulator and has no business supporting 5G over other technologies. The cellular companies behind 5G are extremely well-funded and we should let 5G play out as the market sees fit.
Don’t Sponsor a New National Broadband Plan. That’s what the government does when it wants to kick an issue down the road. We don’t need another panel of experts telling us what is wrong with rural broadband.
Say No to a Big ISP Once in a While. The current FCC seems to have decided every issue in favor of the biggest ISPs. I understand that AT&T, Comcast, Charter, and Verizon serve 73% of the broadband and cable customers and most of the cellular customers in the country. The current FCC approved everything on the big ISP’s regulatory wish lists. The role of a regulator is to strike a balance between the companies it regulates and the public – we need to get back to a balance between those two interests.