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FCC Commissioners Discuss Issues Ranging from LTE-U to Privacy and Cybersecurity

Three Commissioners from the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) found areas of both agreement and disagreement in a wide-ranging discussion at the CTIA Super Mobility conference last week in Las Vegas. The discussion among Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, Ajit Pai, and Michael O’Rielly, moderated by CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker, covered LTE-U, the Internet of Things, infrastructure, free data, competition, and the regulation of privacy and cybersecurity.

LTE in Unlicensed Spectrum

Commissioner O’Rielly expressed frustration with the process of authorizing LTE devices to be used in unlicensed spectrum. He said no one is discussing the issues, only discussing the delays, and “delay for delay’s sake is no longer acceptable.”  Commissioner Clyburn, on the other hand, said she is optimistic that the conversations happening now, including the LTE-U coexistence workshops, will move the process to a place where LTE-U becomes a reality.

5G and Internet of Things

All three Commissioners agreed that the proposed rules in the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding were a positive – and rapid – step in the right direction. Commissioner Pai praised the “speed and unanimity” with which the FCC approached the issue, while also acknowledging that there were likely to be challenges in developing the infrastructure necessary to support 5G on the new spectrum bands.  Commissioner Clyburn agreed that the Commission is “all in” on 5G and committed to providing consumers with the networks they expect.  She, too, acknowledged that there will be siting issues for the necessary infrastructure.


Commissioner O’Rielly suggested that the FCC can and should be more proactive in advocating for the development of infrastructure in places where local communities are “standing in the way of progress for their citizens.” Commissioner Clyburn said that local municipalities need to understand the return on investment for municipalities that facilitate the deployment of broadband.  Commissioner Pai agreed on the need for additional infrastructure development, and announced that this week he will be laying out some ideas for facilitating the deployment of additional fiber.

Free Data

The Commissioners disagreed on how to approach the free data programs offered by some major wireless carriers, such as BingeOn from T-Mobile and FreeBee from Verizon. Commissioner Clyburn said that some people she has spoken with are upset that the Commission has not banned them outright as violations of the Open Internet rules. On the other hand, both Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly asserted that the offerings are highly competitive and beneficial to consumers, and the “last thing” the Commission should do is stand between consumers and beneficial innovations.  Commissioner O’Rielly said that the Open Internet rules unfortunately had created uncertainty around this issue for the wireless providers and left the FCC’s bureaus to referee a game that no one knows how to play.

Competition in the Wireless Market

Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly disagreed with Commissioner Clyburn about the state of competition in the wireless market. Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly both expressed surprise and disbelief that the Commission has not found that the wireless market is competitive in its most recent annual mobile wireless competition reports.  Commissioner Clyburn, however, argued that the wireless ecosystem is not competitive and is in fact consolidating, from six nationwide carriers a few years ago to just four nationwide carriers today.

Regulation of Cybersecurity and Privacy

The Commissioners disagreed as to how the Commission should approach the regulation of cybersecurity and privacy. Commissioner Clyburn said the Commission has a responsibility to promote reliability for network users in this space and said that there are gaps in consumer protections where the Commission can step in under authority contained in Section 222 of the Communications Act.  Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly, however, argued that the FCC has limited authority from Congress to address these issues.  Commissioner O’Rielly stated that “Congress has not spoken and given us authority” to regulate privacy, despite passing laws in this space granting authority to other federal agencies.  Pai further stated that consumers don’t think about the different agencies that might regulate an issue, and advocated for a level playing field of regulations across platforms and agencies.