TR Daily Effect of Dems’ Control of House on Tech Issues Debated
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Friday, November 9, 2018

Effect of Dems’ Control of House on Tech Issues Debated

The shift in January to a divided federal government triggered by the Democrats’ winning of a majority of House seats in Tuesday’s general elections may mean renewed effort on their part to move net neutrality measures without improving the prospects for actual passage of legislation on that or other tech issues, according to panelists at the Practising Law Institute’s conference on communications law today.

During a panel session on electronic media regulation, Gigi Sohn, former counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and now a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Technology Law & Policy, said that legislation on telecom issues probably will not be enacted.

Ms. Sohn judged privacy to be the issue most likely to see legislative action, and added that the impact of the shift in control of the House is more likely to felt in terms of oversight. Preparing for congressional appearances and responding to congressional inquiries takes time away from an FCC Chairman’s efforts to move his own agenda at the agency, she said. Hearing preparation, she noted, doesn’t just focus on big-ticket items but requires ensuring the Chairman is prepared for all the issues of special concern to each member of a committee.

Ms. Sohn suggested that the increased House oversight might increase the possibility that current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will choose to leave the FCC soon, given that he has been at the agency for six years and has done “an awful lot,” she added, noting that in a tweet yesterday she had emphasized the “awful.” She also suggested that that Chairman Pai might have an interest in future elective office, which could make amassing C-SPAN video of being criticized by lawmakers undesirable.

If the Chairman does leave, and Democratic nominee Geoffrey Starks, currently an assistant chief in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, were to be confirmed along with current FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, whose nomination to a term following his term that expired June 30 is still pending, that would create a Commission split 2-2 on party lines, which would make action on many issues, including the pending merger application by T-Mobile US, Inc., and Sprint Corp., very difficult.

Erin Dozier, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of the National Association of Broadcasters, agreed that the party shift in the House will bring increased oversight, but she said she didn’t think that it would affect the Chairman’s agenda.

Rick Chessen, SVP–law and regulatory policy at NCTA, professed to being a “cockeyed optimist” when it comes to net neutrality legislation, given that there is a lot of agreement on what the principles should be, although he acknowledged the odds aren’t good for enactment.

Ms. Sohn said that the issue is not the principles or rules for net neutrality but the extent of FCC authority over broadband service. She said that the fate of net neutrality lies with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is slated to hear argument on Feb. 1, 2019, on challenges to the FCC’s 2017 restoring Internet freedom (RIF) order that classified broadband Internet access service as an information service.

She predicted the introduction of bills next year to reinstate net neutrality protections.

Mr. Chessen suggested that the agreement by the state of California to a motion, granted by a federal district judge, to suspend action on challenges to a state law imposing net neutrality protections suggests that the state didn’t want to defend the law.

The court proceedings regarding the California law have been halted pending a decision by the D.C. Circuit on the FCC’s RIF order, which faces challenges regarding its preemption of state laws and regulations that impose stronger net neutrality protections (TR Daily, Oct. 29). —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

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