How Trump’s New FCC May Affect You

by Lou Frenzel
Feb 10, 2017

Net neutrality

If you work with communications products or services—whether wireless, wired, or otherwise—what you do is subject to some control by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). If you’re a communications policy wonk, you probably already follow the doings of the FCC like I do. If not, maybe you should. With the new administration now in place, you can expect some policy shifts and a new approach to regulation. Anyway, if you haven’t been keeping track, here’s a short update.

First, keep in mind that the FCC is an independent government agency overseen by Congress. Its job is to regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, cable, satellite, and other technologies. It generally does a good job and is basically fair and balanced. However, under some administrations, severe control and regulation seems to be the goal.

A New Chairman

When Donald Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler resigned. Wheeler, a Democrat, is the guy who brought us the overly heavy-handed net neutrality regulation in 2015, thanks to extreme pressure from the “net neut” lobby and President Obama. While the regulations from the ancient Title II of the 1934 Communications Act have not yet been applied, their foreboding existence has probably halted or delayed the funding and development of some potentially beneficial services or products.

Wheeler’s action is a great example of regulation for the sake of it. If you are a federal regulatory agency, what you do is regulate—even if there’s no evidence that you need it. The internet already was open and neutral; now it is not. The FCC wanted to determine industry’s winners and losers.

Overall, Wheeler wasn’t a bad chairman, excepting the net neut faux pas. He did run some successful auctions and allocated some prime 5G spectrum. Not all regulation is bad.

The new chairman is Ajit Pai, one of the commissioners under Wheeler. Pai’s is an attorney who has been with the FCC for four years. He regularly wrote dissent papers critical of Wheeler’s policies. Pai’s agenda, as a Republican, is likely to be quite different. He could reverse the net neutrality regulation. He could also kill the effort to open the market for set-top boxes. We will soon find out what other deregulatory actions occur under his leadership.

An example of Pai’s anti-regulatory stance is the recent ending of the investigation into AT& T and Verizon’s “free data” offerings. Wheeler had said this practice was anti-competitive and violated the net neutrality policy. Pai, on the other hand, had this to say: “Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.”

One of Pai’s favorite causes is extending broadband to all Americans. So many households are still without a high-speed internet connection which is so critical for education and job creation in our tech-oriented world today. There are many citizens, especially in rural areas, who still lack a fast link to the internet. The new chairman promises to make that happen despite the fact that cable and telcom companies have yet to find a way to make a profit doing so.

By initially using it for wireless broadband service, high-speed 5G technology may provide the answer. In the meantime, the FCC recently voted to allocate $170,000 from the Connect America Fund to implement broadband in underserved regions of New York. Something like that is needed in many mid-country, southern and western states where broadband service is rare. Slow DSL is the best many have in today’s world of streaming video.

Pai is already moving forward on his goal: He recently formed the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which will provide an overall model for extending broadband services nationwide.

Other Personnel Changes

The FCC is made up of five commissioners: the chairman and four others. The returning commissioners from the previous administration are Mignon Clyburn (a Democrat) and Michael O’Rielly (a Republican). Two other commissioners—one from each party—have yet to be appointed. This will change the balance of the Commission from a 3 to 2 Democrat majority to a 3 to 2 Republican majority. Some interesting new decisions are inevitable in the coming years.

Oh, yes. One more thing: The new secretary of the Department of Commerce (DoC) is Wilbur Ross, a successful businessman. Since the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is an agency of the DoC, more communications actions are likely. NTIA manages the government and military spectrum as well as multiple other communications policies. Look for additional changes there, as well.

NTIA made what many consider a huge (and potentially illegal) blunder last Oct. 1, when it released the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Number (ICANN) from its contract with the DoC. This means that the U.S. no longer controls ICANN and the internet.

ICANN, which manages internet domain names and IP addresses, is now an independent agency potentially subject to considerable influence and control by foreign countries. Some even fear that ICANN could end up under the UN. Advocates tried to stop the release of ICANN, but the action took place anyway—another goof-up of the previous administration. Who knows where this will go.

Recent FCC Actions

The FCC is winding down its auction of 600-MHz range spectrum. This is spectrum licensed to TV stations that is generally underutilized. The goal is to provide more bands for the cellular carriers that seem to perpetually need more spectrum. This incentive, or reverse auction, pays the TV stations for giving up their licenses, then accepts bids from carriers and other seeking this valuable spectrum. Roughly 70 MHz of licensed spectrum has been auctioned off along with 14 MHz of new unlicensed spectrum.

The broadcasters will collectively get about $10 billion for their licenses. Any additional funds from the auction goes into the U.S. Treasury. This auction has not been as successful as past auctions that brought in tens of billions of dollars. Yet it achieves the goal of repurposing underused spectrum for needed new wireless developments. One instance where Wheeler did good.

Another good move by him was to formally designate spectrum for 5G wireless. Lack of frequency assignments was holding up 5G development. The ruling in July 2016 designated 3.85 GHz of spectrum in the 28, 37, and 39 GHz bands, and is greatly expediting 5G cellular and broadband development. Also allocated was 7 GHz additional spectrum from 64 to 71 GHz for unlicensed activity. This is an extension of the existing 57 to 64 GHz unlicensed band. Can’t wait to see what happens there.

The FCC recently announced that it was expediting the rollout of the next-generation over-the-air digital TV standard from the Advanced Television Standards Committee (ATSC). Known as ATSC 3.0, the standard enables delivery of ultra-high-definition television (4K) over standard TV channels. ATSC 3.0 drops the 8VSB modulation method used in the original digital TV standard in favor of the more durable and reliable OFDM method. Look for a forthcoming Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM).

But that’s not all: There’s just too much to report on. If you want to follow the FCC’s actions, go to their website at and sign up for their Daily Digest of current actions and activity.

Discuss this Blog Entry 26

on Feb 13, 2017

Would be nice, Mr. Frenzel, if you could write a neutral and fact specific story instead of lecturing us with your boorish political opinions. This is an engineering site so we aren't the audience for your bias against the former President and his policies. We don't need "overly heavy-handed" and "foreboding existence" and "under some administrations, severe control and regulation seems to be the goal" and "regulation for the sake of it" and "determine industry’s winners and losers" and "huge (and potentially illegal) blunder". Yeah you do give Mr. Wheeler some credit for a few things done under his watch but again this is supposed to be a technical forum, not a soapbox. And of course you present anything you hope will be "better" under Trump and his administration as if it has delivered saving graces despite no actual new policies or results yet in effect. If you cannot separate your political opinions from your alternate facts then maybe you should be writing for Fox Entertainment instead.

on Feb 13, 2017

Agree with ferd 100%.

on Feb 13, 2017

Ferd said it well.

Lou, the blatant bias in your article undermines the credibility of anything you hoped to convey in this article or future ones. I hope the editors of this rag give you some appropriate "counseling" about the proper use of this forum.

on Feb 13, 2017

Me too! Will unfortunately have to take everything he says with a grain of salt now, since unbiased reporting is too much to ask.

BLT
on Feb 13, 2017

I agree with Ferd's comments. This is a technical forum, not a political soapbox. When I "read fair and balanced" I pretty much had a sense where Mr. Frenzel got his opinions. I would have liked to seen a discussion of the issues with existing policies and how changes could impact those issues. While claiming that the FCC is an independent government agency overseen by Congress, the articles discussion proceeds to focus on the political affiliation of the organization's stewardship and no discussion of the impact of potential policy changes.

on Feb 13, 2017

I add my voice to those agreeing.
In addition, I'd like to remind folks that regulation of business has typically (not always) come about because of abuses that required reining in. The meat packing industry, the railroad trusts, snake oil salesmen, etc, all spawned a regulatory zest in the government and for good reason. And yes it is true that once bureaucracies are created, they can end up serving their own interests rather than those of whom they serve. Nonetheless, I believe the whole question really is one of balance. I don't subscribe to the idea that the pendulum swinging too far to either side will be good for the country as a whole, so let's stop painting the regulators as the demons and the commercial interests as champions of good -- or vice versa!!

on Feb 13, 2017

Agree 100% with ferd. I'll be taking Lou off my reading list in the future, since he's just blatantly demonstrated that he's incapable of providing technical editorial without political bias.

To the editors of Electronic Design: shame on you! Your job is to uphold publishing standards. An engineering focussed publication is not an appropriate forum for highly biased political rants.

on Feb 13, 2017

Specifically, Mr Frenzel claims that net neutrality ruling damaged the internet's openness and neutrality ("The internet already was open and neutral; now it is not."). This is an extraordinary claim and so it requires an extraordinary evidence, which Mr. Frenzel failed to provide. My understanding is that net neutrality/Title II proponents want the infrastructure to be widely open and available for any data stream that the end users might want. The opponents want the right to prioritize their preferred traffic: a cable company might want to pass freely their pay-per-view video, while bandwidth-limiting Netflix; or a phone company might de-prioritize Skype or WhatsApp connections.
We as customers are paying for the internet infrastructure; let us use it in any legal way we want, without arbitrary limitations.

on Feb 13, 2017

what an unbiased offering of opinion

on Feb 13, 2017

Are you kidding? If this article is not biased I don't know what is.

on Feb 13, 2017

You missed his tongue planted firmly in cheek!!

on Feb 13, 2017

This article is tetering on the edge of "Fake News"
What did we learn from Watergate? Follow The Money. Pai is a former Verizon lawyer.
Follow the AmateurAdministration and the cabinet of PlunderMonkeys all the way to their pot of gold at the end of the government rainbow.

on Feb 13, 2017

Agree!!

on Feb 13, 2017

Lou:

I fear for some really bad things without net neutrality. I think the FCC got it exactly right by declaring the internet to be a common carrier equivalent. There should be *no* distinction between sources of content. I think you got it exactly backwards: eliminating net neutrality is the thing that will pick winners and losers. Every IP packet should look like and be treated like every other IP packet!!

I agree losing ICANN is likely a serious issue for the USA. We were the ones who created the Internet using government resources and we should be the ones controlling it. If other countries wish to have control, they are free to generate a parallel system.

Since I plan to retire to a more rural part of central Texas, I am acutely aware of the potential issues for having any kind of speed for Internet. Unfortunately, just like POTS service and rural electrification, broadband is going to require "subsidies" from the heavily populated areas to achieve the goal. All the more reason to treat it with the common carrier mindset. Otherwise, the population hubs will have the service and rural areas will get nothing. Of course, that falls under the "plays well with others" bucket. It will be difficult to figure out what the definition of "fair" cost is. At least for a lot of broadband content, there are two satellite providers (3 if you include SiriusXM) that cover the whole country equally.

I would guess ferd has never dealt with the FCC or other regulators. It is *exactly* about politics and regulation; there are almost never any actual technical issues involved. It turns out that it is all about which view of "playing well with others" one believes or whose technology gets a financial advantage (remember broadband over power line?). Given the world today, that seems to be a pretty much bimodal distribution rather than even or gaussian :-(

on Feb 28, 2017

Mack, your guess is wrong. I worked for a telecommunications beltway bandit for many years. And I did not contest that there are too many politics with the FCC and other regulators. Please don't discredit me by assuming what you don't know and by placing false words into my mouth. My beef was Mr. Frenzel's approach by using a bully pulpit. He could have addressed these issues without showing bias. I read technical sites for technical information - not to have more political trash shoved down my throat. And don't assume I'm a whining liberal since I'm actually an Independent who voted Republican. Maybe you don't like people who insist upon thinking for themselves?

on Feb 13, 2017

While not economically a big deal, it would be nice to know what if any views that Pai has on the Amateur Radio Service.

on Feb 13, 2017

I thought the article was very good and actually not political at all, but recognized that most US agencies vary their emphasis based on which side is in the administration. One thing that Net Neutrality had (early on I think) were partisan riders that would have affected talk radio or cable news channels, and that should have been part of some other initiative by itself if some felt so compelled, though I think it would have died either way.

on Feb 13, 2017

Like I hear from many people today. "just give them a chance" although they don't say to do what.

Why would anyone think that without net neutrality rules small companies and startups would have any chance of getting equal broadband access to the internet? Why would Verizon and Comcast allow Netflix, You Tube, Hulu, etc. equal access to their customers without paying big fees (that ultimately are passed on to their customers)? Putting large company executives in charge of gov. agencies places the emphasis on making sure these large companies (i.e. Verizon) are given every opportunity and everyone/ everything else comes second.

As far as the Ham radio, big companies and organizations ($$) have been banging on the door for years to get access to the bands above 30MHz. Good chance they will now get what they want.

on Feb 13, 2017

We should realize that Internet is the new telephone service, and we should define a baseline of universal service that everyone is entitled to, and for which rural customers should be subsidized.
This will probably require two tiers:
1) A DSL-grade speed for rural areas (below a certain population density).
2) A Cable-TV grade speed for built-up areas, within maybe 5 miles from a major switch/"central office".
Each of these should be treated the way the FDR-era regulation treated telephone service. A regulated monopoly makes sense.
Bandwidth provisioning and "contents" should be separated. No cross-subsidy between the monopoly bandwidth service and the competitive entertainment programming delivered across it. Once I buy 10 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up of bandwidth, I should be able to pick and choose services to bring home:
- Netflix
- hulu
- amazon video
- apple bundle
- local stations
- comcast "expanded basic" bundle
- cox "expanded basic" bundle
Network neutrality is what will make it possible for all of these to compete on a level playing field.

on Feb 13, 2017

Well, I think the "...unbiased offering of opinion..." is worth saving for future use. :-)

on Feb 13, 2017

I agree! A gem!

on Feb 15, 2017

What I find sad is the amount of left wing whining about what was an essentially true opinion, namely that the FCC has always been the whipping boy of whoever is running the country. It would be nice if the FCC could do all things fairly, but as long as it is run by presidential appointees, it will reflect the self interests of whatever party controls the White House. I hear a lot about how startups will be denied access to the net without net neutrality but that has not been the case with startups named Google, Twitter, and many others. If they come up with a product worth having they'll grow and prosper, if not they'll wither on the vine.The truth is that it takes a tremendous amount of capital to build out something like the internet and just because DARPA started it, does not mean it belongs to all of us. How many startups could afford to string even 10 miles of fiber optic cable much less obtain right of way or maintain it. Those companies that invested billions in building out the physical plant of the internet have a right, by virtue of their ownership of it, to run it to gain an ROI for their efforts. Having said all that, I wish I could get a decent connection where I live, but the closest I can come is a satellite connection that is pretty pricey, but much cheaper than putting up my own satellite or stringing my own fiber. I live in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevadas so good luck to me with getting a nice broadband connection anytime soon. For that reason I support Commissioner Pai in his efforts to bring us all broadband connections. As a member of the ARRL I will support its efforts to try and persuade the FCC to leave our Ham Radio allocations alone. Left to the mercy of large cellular companies we will be swept up to the high terahertz bands where no one can operate. I guess, at that point we will have to do as we have always done and innovate to find new ways to get out. Maybe subspace commmunications...

on Feb 16, 2017

An honest person makes statements with 'reasons why' tempered by numbers. This atrocious article tells us how to think - without a single reason stating why it is known. Conclusions are both subjective and prejudicial.

Frenzel's target audience are extremists. People who wait to be told how to think. People who do not want to first lean the 'whys' or numbers. People who make conclusions only from their emotions. People who are easily brainwashed.

Obvious are his one sided, heavily biased, extremist conclusions. Honest people - moderates - dislike extremists who have contempt for the always required 'reasons why'.

What happened when net neutrality was previously attacked? All but two internet provided were eliminated. Many communication device manufacturers were stifled by that duopoly. Korea has 100 Mb internet for $20 monthly. Destruction of net neutrality and free markets resulted in only 20 Mb for $50 per month in America. Thanks to Michael Powell and his attacks on net neutrality, a near monopoly (a duopoly) now exists in cable, telephone, and internet.

Apparently Frenzel believes obstructed ‘free market’ innovations and mega company duopolies are somehow good. Those are the 'reasons why' he intentionally ignores - to tell us how to think.

on Mar 23, 2017

w_tom1, I read quite a few "this is how you should think" opinions in your writings and others before you. Those of you who took issue with Mr Frenzels article seemed to feel this was license to verbally abuse Lou. This blog is not specifically a technical only blog and would be damn boring if it was. Lou has every right to write his blog as he sees fit according to the US Constitution. If you disagree with him you are free to start and write your own politically-correct-in-the eyes-of-moderates blog and publish it on the Net. or any other place you can find. I am somewhat astounded to find out that if I do not subscribe to the current definition of moderate than I am a foaming at the mouth radical. Of course, as a baby boomer I have always preferred to be known as a radical as it is my experience that men such a Jefferson were considered to be radicals by the moderates of their day, namely the so called loyalists, who preferred not to rock the boat and continue serving the King of England. Should you care to know I find your entire reply to be insulting, literally fighting words, full of invective and hatred. And your so called moderates aren't the only people who can be considered honest. Because I can honestly think for myself I reject all of your words as liberal hogwash. So there!

on Mar 23, 2017

w_tom1, I read quite a few "this is how you should think" opinions in your writings and others before you. Those of you who took issue with Mr Frenzels article seemed to feel this was license to verbally abuse Lou. This blog is not specifically a technical only blog and would be damn boring if it was. Lou has every right to write his blog as he sees fit according to the US Constitution. If you disagree with him you are free to start and write your own politically-correct-in-the eyes-of-moderates blog and publish it on the Net. or any other place you can find. I am somewhat astounded to find out that if I do not subscribe to the current definition of moderate than I am a foaming at the mouth radical. Of course, as a baby boomer I have always preferred to be known as a radical as it is my experience that men such a Jefferson were considered to be radicals by the moderates of their day, namely the so called loyalists, who preferred not to rock the boat and continue serving the King of England. Should you care to know I find your entire reply to be insulting, literally fighting words, full of invective and hatred. And your so called moderates aren't the only people who can be considered honest. Because I can honestly think for myself I reject all of your words as liberal hogwash. So there!

on Mar 23, 2017

w_tom1, I read quite a few "this is how you should think" opinions in your writings and others before you. Those of you who took issue with Mr Frenzels article seemed to feel this was license to verbally abuse Lou. This blog is not specifically a technical only blog and would be damn boring if it was. Lou has every right to write his blog as he sees fit according to the US Constitution. If you disagree with him you are free to start and write your own politically-correct-in-the eyes-of-moderates blog and publish it on the Net. or any other place you can find. I am somewhat astounded to find out that if I do not subscribe to the current definition of moderate than I am a foaming at the mouth radical. Of course, as a baby boomer I have always preferred to be known as a radical as it is my experience that men such a Jefferson were considered to be radicals by the moderates of their day, namely the so called loyalists, who preferred not to rock the boat and continue serving the King of England. Should you care to know I find your entire reply to be insulting, literally fighting words, full of invective and hatred. And your so called moderates aren't the only people who can be considered honest. Because I can honestly think for myself I reject all of your words as liberal hogwash. So there!

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