The election of Donald Trump as the next US president has everyone scrambling to figure out what he’ll do, and in the last few days that has meant growing speculation about what it might mean over at the FCC.
Will the FCC repeal or otherwise neuter network neutrality? This depends on which Trump shows up when the FCC appointees are chosen. If it’s the populist, anti-rigging candidate that promised to stop the AT&T/Time Warner Deal, then no. If it’s the business-friendly Trump trying to mend enough fences with the Republican establishment, then yes. But it’s almost a non-issue at this point. What we used to argue over when it came to net neutrality is no longer particularly relevant. I think the industry mostly realizes that ham-handed approaches that block things or otherwise deliberately impair services are counterproductive when it comes to consumer relations. And more subtle dodges like T-Mobile did and AT&T is perhaps doing in not counting certain data toward caps are already winning and probably will continue to do so. I doubt very much that the FCC will give up the Title 2 land grab they used to implement network neutrality, but they might forebear pieces of it. But the real force behind net neutrality was always consumer outrage, not regulators. If the industry steps on too many toes, we will do it all again.
Is the FCC going to stop AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner and perhaps even roll back the Comcast/NBC deal somehow? No. Even things Trump repeated ad nauseum are already falling by the wayside, and he only said these things once in the final weeks of the campaign. Even if he really cared about the idea, which there is no evidence of, his power structure would probably keep him from turning that into policy. All AT&T would have to do is stroke his ego a bit.
Is another Sprint/T-Mobile merger attempt likely? And would it succeed? This is a much more interesting question. First, does Sprint (and Softbank) still want do do this, and is T-Mobile USA still willing? The situation has evolved somewhat since the bottom fell out of the last attempt, but the underlying strategic reasons for 3 rather than 4 are obviously still there. If they can make the money work, I’ll bet they do try it. And yes, in this case I do think Trump’s victory may mean they succeed this time. But it will depend on who is actually sitting in those FCC Commissioner chairs when the time comes — all else is guesswork.
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