Following the Nov. 3 election, WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein interviewed noted Telecom Policy Analyst Blair Levin on potential changes to the federal landscape, including at the White House, in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission. Levin, with New Street Research, has worked for the past 25 years at a high level at the intersection of broadband policy and capital markets.
Congress could pass a short-term stimulus bill before the end of the year as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to give the two Republican senators running for re-election in Georgia a win as they face Democratic opponents in runoff races in early January, Levin noted. However, nothing in a potential stimulus bill would include funding that goes to wireless infrastructure.
Depending on whether Democrats win control of the Senate, an infrastructure bill could be introduced and get to the Senate floor. If Republicans keep control of the Senate, an infrastructure bill of some kind could still pass, especially if the economy worsens, Levin predicted. If wireless broadband is included in an infrastructure package, something that targets getting broadband service out to people who live in rural areas – even though it has tremendous bipartisan appeal – is complicated. Overall, infrastructure spending tends to be weighted toward blue states, which have larger populations and more need for airports, public transportation and other infrastructure.
President-elect Biden and his administration are likely to favor workforce development and 5G innovation as those two initiatives fit into certain thematic elements – job creation and American leadership. Likewise, digital equity and inclusion will be important to the Biden administration. Beyond the broadband gap in rural areas, many people living in urban centers do not have access to broadband. Levin could see some type of technology-driven collaboration among federal government, municipalities and the wireless infrastructure ecosystem.
The makeup of the FCC will change under the Biden administration, but Levin thinks Biden and McConnell will work together to pair a new Democratic FCC chair with a new GOP commissioner. The FCC makeup traditionally has been a 3:2 majority with whichever party holds the White House.
If the FCC takes up net-neutrality rules again, Levin believes rules will be used only to ensure internet providers are not blocking or throttling internet traffic and are not giving priority to users who pay more to internet providers using the concept of paid prioritization. A Democrat-led FCC likely won’t reverse previous wins on small-cell regulation and compound expansion.