Photo of Wesley Wright

The year of 2018 at the FCC could be considered the year of déjà vu.  Sure, the Commission broke new ground in some areas, but many of the headline-grabbing items rehashed old proceedings.  For instance:

Net Neutrality

The ink was barely dry on the FCC’s net neutrality rules when, in January, the agency released a Declaratory Ruling that largely revoked those rules (see, Vol. XV, Issue 2).  The January Order – which took effect on June 11th – effectively terminated the bright line rules that were central to the FCC’s 2015 rules: no blocking lawful content, no throttling lawful content, and no paid prioritization.

To say this was a hotly-contested proceeding is an understatement: the issue caused a 3,000% spike in the FCC’s web traffic and the agency received about 22 million comments.  In August 2018, the FCC’s Inspector General concluded that the bulk of this was caused by a segment on John Oliver’s TV show.

Citizens Broadband Radio Service

The agency also revisited its rules for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band (3.55-3.70 GHz).  The proposed rules essentially reopened the CBRS proceeding to make the spectrum allocation more palatable to large wireless carriers (see, Vol. XV, Issue 33).  The Public Notice seeking comment on proposed rule revisions was issued in August 2018 and the agency finalized its revised (again) rules in October 2018 (see, Vol. XV, Issue 44).  This most recent revision clears the way for CBRS networks to begin operating in 2019.  We expect the General Access tier to be available for use in the first four months of 2019 and the auction for the Priority Access tier of licenses likely will be held in late 2019 or early 2020.

FCC Enforcement

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau made an example of a private land mobile licensee in August of 2018.  Marriott entered into a Consent Decree with the agency – agreeing to pay more than $500,000 and implement a Compliance Plan – for failing to secure the agency’s prior consent to acquire Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide (and Starwood’s 65 wireless FCC licenses) (see, Vol. XV, Issue 36).

*       *       *

But 2018 wasn’t all the same old, same old at the FCC.  The agency broke new ground in a few areas, including:

5G Deployment and Pole Attachments

The Commission’s top priority in 2018 was promoting 5G wireless deployments.  In that spirit, the FCC focused on infrastructure and spectrum to support 5G networks.  The agency took a number of steps to streamline the process by which: (i) new communications towers can be built (see, Vol. XV, Issue 19); and (ii) carriers can install new small cells to expand network coverage (see, Vol. XV, Issue 43).  These changes benefit the large national carriers, but many of the rule revisions – including onerous changes to Pole Attachment regulations and the Small Cell rules – were aggressively opposed by utilities and municipalities alike (see, Vol. XV, Issue 30).

On the spectrum front, the FCC also took steps to make additional mid-band spectrum available by proposing rules to rework the 2.5 GHz band, starting the process of cleaning up the 4 GHz band by requiring users to certify the accuracy of their operational information, and proposing to allow unlicensed devices to operate in the 6 GHz band (see, Vol. XV, Issue 41).

Connect America Fund Auction

The FCC also completed its Connect America Fund Phase II Auction, allocating nearly $1.5 Billion in federal funding over the next decade to support broadband deployments in unserved areas of 45 different states (see, Vol. XV, Issue 36).

For more information, please contact Wes Wright (wright@khlaw.com; 202.434.4239).