January 7, 2019

Laura Phillips Provides Insight on the Curtailment of FCC Functions During the Partial Government Shutdown

Washington D.C. partner Laura Phillips spoke with multiple publications about the impact of the government shutdown on routine but significant Federal Communications Commission operations and the ripple effect it will have on communications industry stakeholders.

On January 3, the FCC announced that it would furlough more than 80 percent of its employees, with some exceptions for commissioners and staff handling spectrum and subsidy payouts. Merger reviews, licensing and technology approval functions have been put on hold until the shutdown ends.

In a Mobile World Live article, Laura said that the shutdown will “have a very immediate impact” on companies and projects which rely on FCC licensing.

“If the shutdown is extended, the backlog on licensing is going to really be an issue for some,” she said. “It creates issues for the communications industry and the broader communications ecosystem, particularly when normal licensing and authorisation processes are not occurring, and there is a backup created from these processes being halted for an unknown period of time.”

Companies that want to import devices for commercial launch are “stuck until the FCC reopens,” she said in a Communications Daily article. It could be particularly problematic for companies that are competing to launch 5G products.

If the partial shutdown drags on, Laura noted that the agency’s next scheduled public meeting on January 30 could be delayed. In her comments to Channel Partners Online, she said that many important public matters will be held in limbo.

“Without agency staff having time to prepare for the meeting, there would be a postponement in resolving matters of public significance, such as the FCC’s response to the D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion in ACA International, an important case which concerns how the agency interprets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act,” she said. “Also, major transactions, such as the pending T-Mobile-Sprint merger, may take longer for the agency to review.”

In a Law360 article Laura said that the scaled-back resources will limit what FCC commissioners can accomplish in the short term.

“They’re not going to be undertaking new initiatives because there is no staff to support it,” she said. “It is truly a skeleton crew. Nobody can sit at home and do the work they might actually like to do in a nonstructured environment because they’re not allowed to by law.”

In her comments to Corporate Counsel, Laura noted that the FCC’s online resources and archived comments are still available, which wasn’t the case during the 2013 shutdown. This downtime in activity at the agency represents an opportunity for those with unexpected additional time available to think more broadly about unresolved or complex policy issues.

“As a practitioner, it was a relief to see that a lot of historical documents are still online,” she explained. “Now you have free time to do that deep dive and get yourself prepared for the next big thing.”

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