Tech Policy Outlook

While we tend to keep things technical here, with a new Administration and a new Congress, here is a rare overview of how potential policy changes might impact the cable tech community. While the Trump Administration hasn’t detailed its tech agenda, some level of deregulation is expected, experts said. Net neutrality is expected to be one of the first things new GOP FCC chmn Ajit Pai will re-examine. Stephane Bourque, founder and CEO of Incognito Software, said one of the risks of repealing net neutrality is “the current playing field that we all enjoy may be jeopardized.” It would be “a step back for subscriber rights” and open the door for paid prioritization, he said. “In business, we know that if something can be monetized, it will be monetized,” he said. The company provides broadband provisioning, service activation, bandwidth intelligence and other services for companies like Cable One, Mediacom and Midcontinent. However, those supporting a repeal, including large ISPs, said that despite supporting the net neutrality rules they have been operating under, they oppose Title II reclassification, which was passed under then-chmn Tom Wheeler. Pai is “obviously not a fan” of Title II regulation, AT&T CEO Randall Stephensonsaid during the company’s earnings call last week. “He (Pai) felt like it had gone entirely too far. We obviously tend to agree with him on that. We happen to be advocates of net neutrality… But placing utility style regulation on our mobility and internet businesses? There is no way anybody can argue that that is not suppressive to investment,” Stephenson said. Meanwhile, a recent report by law firm Keller and Heckman, said “we expect this new Republican leadership to focus on one goal: deregulation.” The firm represents companies in the telecom and cable industry. Priorities at the new FCC will likely include less aggressive enforcement actions coupled with a deregulatory push that may include scaling back the agency’s net neutrality rules, revoking or reworking the broadband privacy regulations and scuttling the ongoing business data service proceeding. Deregulation across the board may “play into the hands of the larger and more powerful providers because deregulation often leads to an aggregation of the industry. This would have significant effect on broadband users,” Bourque said. “I don’t think all regulations are bad. I believe they should be put in place to even the scales and ensure that smaller service providers, content producers, and end users are fairly represented,” he said. Despite focusing primarily on deregulation, some things are expected to remain largely unchanged. For example, Keller and Heckman sees little change in the FCC’s spectrum policy and expects the FCC to keep focusing on broadband deployment, particularly in underserved or unserved areas. The deregulation trend has already begun, with Pai proposing to extend the small business exemption last week. The exemption, which excludes small ISPs from the transparency net neutrality rules, expired in December, and Wheeler failed to extend it.

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