CES 2018: FCC Members Restate Net Neutrality Stances

LAS VEGAS—Five federal policymakers offered their familiar visions of core regulatory issues, including spectrum policy and net neutrality, during CES sessions. With the FCC Chairman absent because of death threats he has recently received, and Democratic Commissioner opting to skip the program, the sessions were largely status reports on activities at the FCC, NTIA and FTC. The on-stage discussion did not address the Commission’s split decision in November on ATSC 3.0 rules.

FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr, Mignon Clyburn and Michel O'Rielly

David Redl, who heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, opened the session by reading very quickly through prepared remarks, touching on spectrum policy, cyber-security, international governance and the development of telecom infrastructure, including sharing of bandwidth assigned to federal agencies. He promised that spectrum policy will be a major focus of NTIA this year, and the agency will work with industry to develop procedures to make better use of the airwaves.

“We must do everything we can this year and beyond to accelerate America’s 5G leadership,” he said. “With 5G set to drive demand for more access to spectrum, we’ve been looking at bands across NTIA’s notorious spectrum chart.” Citing the 37 GHz band, he said NTIA is “optimistic” that “if we can get this right, it will serve as a model on how to handle sharing in other bands.”

Redl also emphasized NTIA���s prioritization of cybersecurity. 

After Redl’s speech, Julie Kearney, CTA’s VP-regulatory affairs, sat down for a chat with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly.

O’Rielly said he expects a “busy and exciting year” in which the Commission will eliminate rules “that no longer make any sense,” citing Pai’s intent to delete aging regulations.

Commissioner Brendan Carr predicted, “We’ll unleash more innovation and greater investment.” He also said he expects that the policies will lead to broadband expansion.

Clyburn called the net neutrality decision and its aftermath as a “teachable moment.”

Kearney sought to extract opinion from the Commissioners about the need for or likelihood of an update of the Communications Act that steers their decision-making. Analysts acknowledge that Congressional action on such legislation is not currently on the drawing board.

O’Rielly said that a new law would mean that FCC wouldn’t have to “parse out meaning” from the 1934 communications legislation and subsequent laws.

Clyburn said she is hopeful that Congress will move in a way to recognize what the FCC, although she acknowledged that, “We’re not going to get a blueprint of everything that comes before us.”

At an earlier session, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen assured the audience that the FTC is ready to play a larger role in enforcing Open Internet regulations that are part of the FCC’s repeal of Title II classification.

“From the advent of the internet until 2015, the FTC played an active role,” she said. “Now that the Open Internet order was put out, eventually the authority is going to come back to the FTC.” 

CTA President Gary Shapiro, who interviewed Ohlhausen on stage, said that, “No other session in CES history has gotten as much pre-show attention” as the expected Pai participation.

Shapiro characterized CTA’s stance on neutrality as ‘very complex in terms of nuance.” He said that he believes Republicans and Democrats agree on “the most fundamental basic principle” that consumers should be able to get whatever they want.

Gary Arlen

Gary Arlen, a contributor to Broadcasting & Cable, NextTV and TV Tech, is known for his visionary insights into the convergence of media + telecom + content + technology. His perspectives on public/tech policy, marketing and audience measurement have added to the value of his research and analyses of emerging interactive and broadband services. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the long-time “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports; Gary writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs.