The changes everyone expected to come at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are here.
In one sign of the new times, chairman Ajit Pai said this week that no oversight from the FCC was necessary in the AT&T-Time Warner merger. The Hill reports that the FCC will step back because no licenses will be exchanged as part of the $85 million deal. Mignon Clyburn, the only Democratic commissioner, objected.
The deal must be cleared by the Justice Department. The FCC played a much more stringent role in telecommunications mergers and acquisitions during the Obama Administration.
On February 23, the FCC voted to restore the Small Provider Exemption from the Commission’s Open Internet rules. CommLaw Monitor reported that the 2-1 party line vote reestablished an exemption that former Chairman Tom Wheeler had allowed to expire.
In 2015, the FCC exempted internet service providers (ISPs) with fewer than 100,000 subscribers from disclosure rules on, according to the story, “promotional rates, all fees and/or surcharges, all data caps and allowances, and additional network performance metrics (e.g., packet loss).”
Wheeler allowed the exemption to expire last year. The move on February 23 does two things: It reestablishes the exemption for five years and expands the definition of small carrier from 100,000 subscribers to 250,000 subscribers. The new rule is retroactive to January 17.
Another 2-1 party line vote resulted in a stay to “one part of privacy rules passed in October,” according to Computerworld. The stayed rules would have provided consumers with control on how their data is used:
The rules include the requirement that internet service providers should obtain “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information such as geolocation and web browsing history, and also give customers the option to opt out from the sharing of non-sensitive information such as email addresses or service tier information.
The sidelined rules included a mandate to use reasonable data security practices and provide breach notifications. They would have gone into effect today, the story says.
Not all the indications of change were actions by the commission. In a speech at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this week, Chairman Pai called net neutrality “a mistake” and, according to the report at Engadget, endorsed “light touch” internet regulation. It is clear that such an approach doesn’t include the current set of regulations.
Finally, the FCC list of commissioners may be moving to the right as a group. One of the Democratic commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel, submitted her resignation at the end of 2016. President Obama re-nominated her before he left open. Variety said that the “apparent expectation” was that President Trump would pair her nomination with one of a Republican. The pair would go through the confirmation process in tandem. President Trump has not re-nominated her. That, the story says:
…has led to speculation that he would put forward another Republican and perhaps an independent or other Democrat more favorable to administration policy. In the past, the White House has deferred to Senate leadership in the selection of nominees from the opposing party. Democrats have already been vowing to push back if the administration tries to buck that tradition.
None of these moves (with the possible exception of not re-nominating Rosenworcel) is a surprise. Taken together, however, they show how quickly and decisively the new administration is setting a new course.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.