January 25, 2017
Ajit Pai, elevated by President Donald J. Trump from his position as a commissioner to become FCC chairman, may preside over a substantial reorganization of the federal agency, coupled with its downsizing.
Notwithstanding possible turmoil from reorganization and a change from Democratic to Republican leadership at the FCC, it seems possible that wireless infrastructure businesses won’t see as much change in regulation as those businesses that have more direct dealings with consumers. An exception could be an FCC led by Pai that would look more favorably on mergers among wireless carriers. But even then, the use of telecommunications towers, rooftop antenna sites and small cells might not diminish much if two national carriers merge.
Many of the FCC’s decisions that affect wireless infrastructure are more technical in nature than political, so a change from a commission led by a Democrat (former Chairman Tom Wheeler) to one led by a Republican might not make much difference. After all, the FCC already supported quite a bit of deregulation with respect to antenna sites, bringing relief from some county and municipal restrictions to wireless carriers. State governments also have supported deregulation.
Chairman Pai’s thinking about federal spending already seems to be in line with the president’s. The president may look to trim 10 percent from federal spending, with the exception of spending for military and law enforcement expenses. Chairman Pai seems poised to limit FCC spending on one project in particular: enforcing regulations for net neutrality. And then undo net neutrality regulation altogether.
Meanwhile, architects in the Trump administration may further reduce FCC spending by removing many of the FCC’s functions with respect to consumer protection and antitrust review. The president may call on Congress to remove those roles from the FCC and place them with other federal agencies that conduct similar activities, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The president would have to nominate him for a second term to keep Pai as FCC chairman beyond 2017. The Senate would have to confirm that nomination because Pai’s first term expired on June 30, 2016. Unless reconfirmed, he has to exit the FCC when the current congressional session concludes at the end of the year. Whether renomination comes early could indicate whether the administration has confidence that Chairman Pai will make smaller a federal agency that now operates with seven bureaus, 11 staff offices and a requested 2016 budget of $388 million.