Cell-phone use on airlines grabbed all the headlines Thursday, but while the world wasn’t paying attention, the Federal Communications Commission moved ahead with less-noticed but more-important policy changes in its long-term agenda.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hinted on Thursday that the agency would impose bidding limits on AT&T and Verizon in an upcoming government auction of spectrum. The sale, scheduled for 2015, will allow wireless networks to purchase the spectrum from broadcasters that they need to keep pace with the public’s demand for mobile phones and ubiquitous Internet connection.
Wheeler’s statements, made during a House committee hearing, follow AT&T’s indication Tuesday that it was shifting its position on bidding caps, saying it is open to caps provided they are applied equally to all participants in the highly anticipated incentive auction.
The caps are aimed at balancing competition between the industry juggernauts — AT&T and Verizon — and smaller carriers, and have been a hotly contested point throughout the run-up to the auction. Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge and one of the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing, said the shift signals to stakeholders in the auction process that “it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get serious about what you can live with instead of what you want.”
And that wasn’t all the news Wheeler had for Congress. The chairman reassured members that he supports an open Internet — “full stop.”
With a federal court decision imminent for FCC v. Verizon, which concerns the agency’s ability to enforce net neutrality, Wheeler had sent a ripple of fear around the Internet community in his first public remarks last week when he implied he may be open to price discrimination of Internet traffic.
Finally, Wheeler promised that his bureaucratic behemoth is taking seriously its promise to streamline the way it operates. The FCC has been notoriously out of step with the dynamic, innovative technology industry it regulates.
The House Commerce Committee Wednesday advanced a reform bill for the FCC, a measure that Wheeler said Thursday was “significant, noted, and appreciated.” He is expecting an in-house report on the subject by the end of the month.
But even as he was making his proclamations, the FCC got a pointed reminder of the technological challenges his agency faces: During Thursday’s meeting, the live-streaming of Thursday’s open commission meeting cut out halfway through.
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The conventional wisdom is already emerging that Donald Trump opened last night's debate well, but that he faded badly down the stretch. And most viewers apparently witnessed it. "The early Nielsen data confirms that viewership stayed high the entire time. Contrary to some speculation, there was not a big drop-off after the first hour of the 98-minute debate." Final data is still being tallied, but "Monday's face-off may well have been the most-watched debate in American history. CNN and other cable news channels saw big increases over past election years. So did some of the broadcast networks."
As Congress continues to bicker on riders to a continuing resolution, federal agencies have started working with the Office of Management and Budget to prepare for a government shutdown, which will occur if no continuing resolution is passed by 11:59 p.m. on Friday night. The OMB held a call with agencies on Sept. 23, one that is required one week before a possible shutdown. The government last shut down for 16 days in 2013, and multiple shutdowns have been narrowly avoided since then. It is expected that Congress will reach a deal before the clock strikes midnight, but until it does, preparations will continue.
President Obama's Clean Power Plan, a large pillar of his efforts to leave a lasting environmental legacy, "goes before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today." The plan "imposes the first national limits on carbon pollution from power plants." A number of consolidated cases finds 27 states challenging this plan, which was blocked by the Supreme Court in February pending decisions from lower courts. The states will argue that the government doesn't have the right to impose restrictions requiring them to shutter plans and restructure full industries.
There seems to be a clear consensus forming about Monday's debate: Hillary Clinton was the winner. One focus group of undecided Pennsylvania voters, conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz, found 16 favored Clinton while five picked Donald Trump. In a Florida focus group organized by CNN, 18 of 20 undecided voters saw Clinton as the winner.
As both candidates walked off the stage, Donald Trump lauded himself for being restrained and for not bringing up Bill Clinton. "I didn’t want to say—her husband was in the room along with her daughter, who I think is a very nice young lady—and I didn’t want to say what I was going to say about what’s been going on in their life," Trump said. Trump claims he stopped himself from hitting Bill Clinton because daughter Chelsea was in the room.