National Election Complicates FCC Decision-Making

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-07-05 Print this article Print

You can imagine the implications if tens of millions of people in the United States find themselves unable to use GPS receivers that they've come to depend on. Such an approval could be political suicide for whoever gets stuck with the blame. But on the other hand, LightSquared is promising some real benefits in terms of making broadband available, and killing a national broadband service isn't likely to be very popular either. But it's the FCC's job to make decisions like this, hopefully with the public good in mind for all users.

Then there's the AT&T merger with T-Mobile. Despite the comments filed with the FCC from random civic groups that AT&T paid for (and for which AT&T even drafted the letters), this merger seems to be widely reviled. Comments opposing the merger are running 10 to 1 against it. It's very likely that any decision approving the merger will be tied up in court for years. T-Mobile's existing customers are already casting about for an exit strategy.

Would the FCC approve the merger in the face of this much opposition? They might, if one of them thought it could lead to a cushy job with AT&T as a result of the apparent FCC-communications industry revolving door. Or they might make a decision if they thought it would be politically expedient in time for the next election.

Remember, the Democrats are trying hard not to appear to be anti-business, as Cecelia Kang explained in The Washington Post. While there is strong opposition to the merger, many of those opposing it are natural allies of the Democrats and aren't likely to vote against an Obama reelection, regardless of the merger.

In addition, despite the millions of T-Mobile customers out there, this is not a unified party. The merger could go through and it's unlikely to have any direct effect on the election. While there would be a lot of annoyed T-Mobile customers, it's unlikely that they would blame the Obama administration. So the FCC can approve the merger, and do so with impunity as far as the 2012 elections are concerned. All that would happen is that they could claim that they were pro-business.

The LightSquared decision is another matter. If it turned out that the FCC approved operation of the system and in the process took out a large proportion of GPS receivers in the United States, you can bet that there would be throngs of enraged citizens berating the FCC and complaining loud and long to their Congressional representatives.

GPS is near and dear to consumers' hearts, it's essential U.S. military for whom the system was principally created. You can't navigate airplanes or ships efficiently without it and users aren't going down without a fight. So you can assume that the FCC will take their time with a LightSquared decision. So don't expect to hear about one until well after the election. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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