US industry leaders identify priorities as Biden and Harris come into power

US industry leaders identify priorities as Biden and Harris come into power

Biden and Harris in masks.jpg

As the Biden-Harris administration comes into power at noon Eastern Time today, leaders in the telecoms industry have told Capacity what their priorities should be.

We also asked who they suggested as chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC): neither President-elect Joe Biden nor Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have named anyone by the morning of the inauguration.

Last week the incoming Biden-Harris administration promised US$10 billion on IT and cybersecurity initiatives, including a refreshed, expanded and improved Technology Modernization Fund. “This is an urgent national security issue that cannot wait.”

In a last gasp from the Trump-Pence team, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the US Department of Commerce, yesterday published its National Strategy to Secure 5G — which, it said, details how the US “will lead global development, deployment, and management of secure and reliable 5G infrastructure”.

The agenda for the new administration is getting longer. Of particular interest to the telecoms industry will be US relations with China, and the country’s attitude to Chinese vendor Huawei in particular. Those are likely to be addressed much later in 2021, sources suggest to Capacity.

Once there is a new chair of the FCC, top of the agenda, suggested American-British lawyer Stephanie Liston, should be “reconsideration and possibly reversal of the rule making in relation to net neutrality”.

That historic rule — meaning internet service providers should not be able to prioritise or impede different sorts of traffic on the net — was formalised under the Obama administration but was dropped by the FCC in a bitterly fought battle that started in 2017 and didn’t finish until 2019.

On the side of net neutrality were 21 states including California and New York, which took the battle to the courts. It’s likely to become law again once the Biden-Harris administration has tackled more urgent issues, such as the pandemic, the developing recession and the climate emergency.

A number of people told us the digital divide should be high on the new administration’s list, “particularly in light of the need for access to the internet in connection with education and the pandemic”, said one. “This could take the form of new funding for the Lifeline program.”

The universal service fund (USF), a way of redistributing money for telecoms to rural areas, should be on the FCC agenda, said Bob Brumley, head of Marble Arch Partners investment group.

He also called for social media to get the FCC’s attention — something that is particularly relevant after the Capitol insurrection of just two weeks ago.

Telecoms investor and entrepreneur Hunter Newby said: “The FCC should focus on the new internet; ownership, rights and rules, and ramifications for violations. Specifically social media and the structural reforms it will face. Also, Starlink [SpaceX’s low-orbit satellite fleet] and its role in the above.”

Carl Grivner, now CEO of Global Cloud Xchange, agreed that “expansion of rural broadband” should be a priority for the FCC.

The Biden-Harris transition team has not yet nominated a chair for the FCC, to replace Ajit Pai, whose last day is today. He announced his resignation a few weeks after the election, leaving the field clear for Biden-Harris to suggest a replacement.

Under the US convention the newcomer will be a supporter of the Democratic party.

Two people have featured heavily among suggestions of new leaders for the regulator: Jessica Rosenworcel, appointed in 2012 and then again in 2017 after a brief interval, and Mignon Clyburn, a strong advocate of net neutrality, who left the regulator in 2018 after nine years, including a spell as acting chair. Clyburn has been on the Biden-Harris transition team

But this week Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group, said that it is supporting Geoffrey Starks for the role; he is already an FCC commissioner.

Grivner told Capacity this week that he is backing Rosenworcel. Brumley suggested Jennifer Manner, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at EchoStar/Hughes Network Systems, which is an investor in the UK-Indian OneWeb satellite project. “Time the satellite industry has someone at the top who understands all aspects of this important industry. Jennifer would be perfect,” said Brumley.

It’s clear there will be a new relationship between big business and US politicians, especially after the Capitol violence. Three of the big over-the-top (OTT) companies, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, said they are stopping all political donations. (Amazon made its point by ousting far-right-wing chat service Parler from its AWS servers.)

Three of the big telcos, AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, have not adopted such a universal ban, but they said they would not support those members of Congress who refused to acknowledge the election result.

A Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar, who incidentally follows members of the Capacity team on Twitter, is preparing her case against the OTT giants: she has a book coming out in April called Antitrust: taking on monopoly power from the gilded age to the digital age. The publishers, Knopf, say it “is a call to action for changes to US competition policy, examining the history of America’s antimonopoly movement from the Gilded Age to today”.

She will specifically refer to the breakup of the original AT&T in the 1980s, the Microsoft case, and the current legal actions against big tech. She’s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee: OTTs should be afraid.

Oh, and one of the industry chiefs we contacted last Friday about the FCC’s policy in the Biden-Harris administration had this to say: “I’m not 100% certain that there will be an inauguration next week, but I am certain that Biden will not be President.”

Only violence could prove that person right (and Capacity understands the person in question flies the flag of the slave-owning Confederates outside their home). If you’re hunting around for a name, come and see us in the bar next time we have a live conference.



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