FCC Members Restate Net-Neutrality Stances at CES

LAS VEGAS -- Five federal policymakers offered their familiar visions of core regulatory issues, including spectrum policy and net neutrality, during CES sessions.

Read More: MCN's Complete Coverage of CES 2018

With FCC chair Ajit Pai absent because of death threats he has recently received, and Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel opting to skip the program, the sessions were largely status reports on activities at the FCC, NTIA and FTC. The on-stage discussions did not address the commission’s split decision in November on ATSC 3.0 rules.

David Redl, who heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, opened the session by reading very quickly through prepared remarks touching on spectrum policy, cybersecurity, 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.

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 Dec. 14 net-neutrality decision and its aftermath 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.

Related: Net-Neutrality Bill Is Longest of Long Shots

O’Rielly said that a new law would mean the 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 added, “We’re not going to get a blueprint of everything that comes before us.”

At an earlier session, Federal Trade Commission chair 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, “No other session in CES history has gotten as much pre-show attention” as the expected Pai participation.

Shapiro characterized CTA’s stance on net 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

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.