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January 30, 2017 by Tom Cohen

What to expect from new FCC Chairman Pai

It would be an understatement to say that it is a new era in Washington. While ex-Chairman Wheeler pursued many policies that all Commissioners supported – for instance, 5G spectrum allocations and incentive auctions – the last two years were characterized by a sharp division between the three Democrats and the two Republicans on the FCC. From Open Internet to Set Top Boxes and from Broadband Privacy to Business Data Services, the ex-Chairman’s pro-regulatory proposals were opposed strongly by Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and O’Rielly. The Open Internet and Broadband Privacy rules were adopted on 3-2 votes; the proposed Set Top Boxes and Business Data Services rules never saw the light of day in part because of the intense Republican opposition. Now, it is the Republicans turn, and their regulatory philosophy is starkly more free market oriented. So, what do we expect?

First, you should recognize that Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly are able and experienced – and so will not wait to pursue their agenda, even though two Commissioner openings still need to be filled. 

Second, if you have not done so already, you should review Chairman Pai’s Digital Empowerment Agenda, which was released last September. It provides a good roadmap of his thinking about communications policy. In this document, he calls for the development of Gigabit Opportunity Zones to bring broadband and digital opportunity to economically challenged areas; FCC action to facilitate private-sector deployment of mobile service in rural areas; and removal of regulatory barriers, such as high pole attachment and right of way fees, that slow broadband deployment. (You can access the Agenda at https://www.fcc.gov/document/commissioner-pais-digital-empowerment-agenda.)

Finally, you can expect that Chairman Pai will move relatively quickly on a number matters, including reversing the 2015 Open Internet Order and Broadband Privacy Rules, deregulating the provision of Business Data Services, facilitating broadband deployment by using the “Mobilitie” Public Notice issued in December, providing support for deployment of wireless and wired broadband in unserved areas, and further allocating spectrum for 5G, and streamlining the Commission’s Merger Review process.

As you can see, Chairman Pai wants to pursue an agenda that propels investment and network deployment by broadband providers with much less regulatory oversight than in the past several years, although he will intervene to make sure unserved people and areas are not left behind. Providers also will have greater flexibility to offer new services with different capabilities and terms, e.g. no limits on usage based pricing or zero rating. We will be back to you over the year as he implements this agenda to discuss the details and analyze the implications.