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FCC goes into hibernation after Trump and Congress stop government funds

Ajit Pai.jpg

Staff at the US telecoms and media regulator are beginning an “orderly shutdown” of almost all operations today thanks to the continuing funding dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that staff will spend four hours today shutting down operations before going home without pay.

The FCC listed suspended operations in a statement: “Consumer complaint and inquiry phone lines cannot be answered; consumer protection and local competition enforcement must cease; licensing services, including broadcast, wireless, and wireline, must cease; management of radio spectrum and the creation of new opportunities for competitive technologies and services for the American public must be suspended; and equipment authorizations, including those bringing new electronic devices to American consumers, cannot be provided.”

Around 245 FCC staff will continue, including up to 200 that are working on spectrum auctions, because their salaries are funded from the proceeds of the auctions. In addition Ajit Pai – the FCC chairman (pictured) – and three fellow commissioners will stay at work.

The FCC is not alone: most of the US government’s activities are being frozen after legislators and Trump failed to agree on funding for 2019, with the president insisting on a $5 billion allocation for his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border and members of Congress refusing.

The FCC said in a statement that it “will suspend most operations in the middle of the day on Thursday”. Noon Washington time is 17:00 UK time on Thursday and 03:00 on Friday China time.

“At that time, employees will have up to four hours to complete an orderly shutdown of operations.”

But the regulator said that “work required for the protection of life and property will continue, as will any work related to spectrum auctions, which is funded by auction proceeds. In addition, the Office of the Inspector General will continue operations until further notice.”

The FCC will release a public notice later in the day “detailing the effects the suspension of operations will have, including on electronic filing and database systems, filing deadlines, regulatory and application fee payments, transaction shot clocks, and more.”

All employees affected will be furloughed – a term that the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “a temporary leave from work that is not paid”. The FCC said: “Employees being furloughed also will be provided shutdown instructions advising them to engage only in shutdown activities.”

That means the FCC will cancel all meetings, cancel all sponsored events.

Meanwhile Pai celebrated the fact that an attempt to overturn the FCC’s decision to end net neutrality had failed. “I’m pleased that a strong bipartisan majority of the US House of Representatives declined to reinstate heavy-handed internet regulation.” However a new House of Representatives takes office this week – with a Democrat majority following last November’s elections.

Pai also welcomed one new commissioner and the reappointment of another, both confirmed by the Senate.

Geoffrey Starks was assistant chief in the enforcement bureau. Pai said: “During his confirmation hearing, I was excited to hear him highlight the need to expand rural broadband and the power of telemedicine.”

Pai also said that Brendan Carr, who first became a commissioner in August 2017, “has done tremendous work on a number of issues, including his leadership on wireless infrastructure modernization. He has also been a staunch advocate for rural broadband deployment, particularly for precision agriculture and advancements in telemedicine.”