Biden's FCC Should Take Some Cues from the Last Administration
With Joe Biden set to become the next president come January, a lot of changes are on the way for many executive agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission. Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is set to leave his post on January 20th, but Biden’s team could learn a thing or two from him as they look to continue his work in solving many of the connectivity issues the country faces going into 2021.
One thing a Biden FCC should avoid is an attempt to revisit net neutrality. The doomsday predictions made when Pai reversed the net neutrality rules never came to fruition. The internet did not stop existing, people were not getting the internet “one word at a time,” and streaming services did not experience additional lag in delivering their service to consumers. A return to the heavy-handed Title II regulatory framework would create problems. The added regulatory weight might result in less investment in broadband deployment and present troubles for companies trying to work to bridge the digital divide in rural America — a task essential to reviving the schools and economies across the nation that have been battered by the pandemic. Additionally, 5G innovation might be hindered by the rule change, which could set the country back in its technological race against China and could harm the development of technologies dependent on broadband innovation.
Additionally, Biden’s FCC needs to ensure that any action on broadband is done at the federal level. Under Trump’s FCC, states like California thought it would be wise to enact their own net neutrality laws. Such action has the potential to splinter the internet, creating a flurry of state action similar to the consumer data privacy legislation being proposed across the country as the result of California’s California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and soon to be California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) regulations. While well-intentioned, these actions result in more harm than good. They tend to favor incumbents who can afford the compliance costs of the regulations by hindering much needed long-run competition.
Neither consumers nor businesses can afford to have a constant back and forth on the issue of net neutrality. Congress needs to take responsibility for the issue and introduce bipartisan legislation that provides much-needed policy clarity and consistency on the topic. Congressional action to establish a regulatory framework for broadband once and for all is far better than a regulatory body that governs through administrative rule, subject to change with each administration.
Another thing the Biden FCC should avoid is a continuation of Chairman Pai’s endeavors to clarify the meaning of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Nowhere in the law was the FCC given such authority, as the writers of the law have made abundantly clear. The government should not be in the position of dictating online speech. Any action to reform or clarify the meaning of the law needs to come from Congress, not the FCC.
A work of Pai’s that the Biden FCC should continue, is the opening up of as much mid-band spectrum as humanly possible to continue the US’s firm pace as a leader in the race to 5G. Other countries around the world have been better about opening up their mid-band spectrum, and the US should follow suit. The mid-band offers the perfect blend of range and strength needed to pave the way for 5G. The DOD should by no means be allowed to create and manage its own 5G network. This would crowd out future investment in 5G and present significant privacy and civil liberty concerns that should give lawmakers pause.
Continuing this great work also aids the bipartisan goal of bridging the digital divide in the country. Chairman Pai has taken action to open up the 4.9 GHz band for states to meet the connectivity needs of their constituents. His most recent proposal for modernizing the 5.9 GHz band offers a great improvement for WiFi needs as well as offering autonomous vehicles a much-needed spectrum to improve upon their Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything technology (C-V2X), which will bring the tech that much closer to market.
Lastly, the Biden FCC should continue Chairman Pai’s work in exploring space, the final frontier, to bridge the digital divide. While traditional broadband deployment can be costly, low orbit satellites also offer a cheap and effective alternative to providing internet services. Continuing Pai’s work in that arena can lead to more Americans in rural America getting access to high-quality internet, something they sorely need.
While Biden is sure to look for ways to have his FCC implement his vision, he should look to build upon the successes of his predecessor. Whatever its focus, Biden’s FCC should look to empower markets to achieve their stated goal, rather than implementing costly and potentially unnecessary top-down regulations. Americans and businesses alike will benefit from a continued light-touch regulatory approach from the FCC.
James Czerniawski is the Tech and Innovation Policy Analyst for the Libertas Institute, a free-market think tank in Utah, and an Associate Contributor with Young Voices. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesCz19.