Trump telecom policy may be hiding in plain sight on Capitol Hill

22 November 2016 by Steve Blum
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The only major telecommunications bill with more than a slim chance of making it out of the U.S. congress and onto president Obama’s desk before everything re-sets in January is the Mobile Now act, aka senate bill 2555. But it’s not the only one worth watching.

Authored by the chairman of the senate’s commerce, science and transportation committee, John Thune (R – South Dakota), the bill would free up more spectrum for mobile broadband purposes, for both licensed and unlicensed users, and streamline procedures for installing broadband infrastructure – towers and fiber – on federal property.

Originally, it included conceptual dig once requirements for federal highway projects, but that language was cut out during the senate committee’s review process, making it more friendly to big incumbent cable and telephone companies who don’t fancy competition.

SB 2555 has bipartisan support and is more or less in line with Obama administration policies, but until this month’s election there were too many issues gumming up the works in Washington, DC to allow it to move ahead. With many of the what ifs off the table, it might be able to finally move forward.

Efforts to get the Federal Communications Commission out of the business of regulating terms and rates for Internet service – a move that would blow a giant hole in the decision to regulate it on a common carrier basis – appear dead. For now. House resolution 2666 will likely fade away in the senate, instead of being passed and almost certainly vetoed by president Obama. Similar language was tacked onto a major budget bill, which has since been pulled off the table. Republicans have decided to wait until the Trump administration takes office before tackling significant budget issues, and it’s a fair assumption they’ll want to do the same regarding broadband regulation, particularly since the FCC will also have a republican majority then.

President-elect Trump hasn’t given any indication of which way he leans on the nitty gritty of telecoms policy, such as found in SB 2555 and HR 2666. It’s very possible it’s not on his radar and he’ll be content to let congress call the shots. If that’s the case, the republican telecoms bills introduced this session may be the best clue we have for what’s coming next.