7. Universal Service and Intercarrier Comp. The FCC committed, in last year's National Broadband Plan, to attacking the Gordian knot of existing subsidies to rural phone companies and payments between different phone companies for connecting long-distance calls.
This is the "land war in Asia" of telecom policy. Everyone wants reform of the multibillion-dollar programs, but no stakeholder wants to lose any of those multibillions of dollars. Add to the mix the eternal tension between urban and rural interests that divides the House and Senate, plus the generally fraught political environment for issues that involve taxation and the size of government. This is precisely the recipe for inertia that has led to the status quo.
8. Privacy. Privacy falls in an ill-defined alphabet soup of the FTC, the Commerce Department’s NTIA, the FCC, and others. It is ripe for major attention, of course, because of the increasing importance of online activities to daily life -- but also because of the perception that the high-tech industry (which leans simultaneously libertarian and Democratic) has been given a pass by Democratic regulators and legislators at the expense of the traditional telecom industry (which has friends in all quarters, but especially on the Republican side).
Expect particular attention for location-based-services (your cell phone knows where you are), which are both incredibly attractive to advertisers but can also raise consumer hackles.
9. Wireless Tethering and Sharing. An issue that might cross over from a techie preoccupation to a broader public concern is whether and how consumers can use one wireless device (e.g., an iPhone) to connect other devices (e.g., a laptop) to the Internet. As the number of wireless-Internet-capable devices owned by each American increases, regulators will face calls to intervene in the marketplace if consumers and consumer electronic manufacturers become frustrated with the choices available.
10. New Commissioners. Commissioner Michael J. Copps, whose term expired last year, can only stay until the end of the 2011 congressional session. And Commissioner Meredith A. Baker’s term expires this year, though she can stay until the end of the 2012 session. One scenario is that the Senate confirms their replacements (or renominations) together in 2011. The other is that the commission ends up 2-2 through the 2012 election. As with all FCC nomination processes, this one will be subject to plenty of macro-trends, including the approach of the White House to new nominations and the always unpredictable relationship between Senate majority and minority leadership.