US update – 5G, net neutrality and privacy

There’s an interesting rebalancing going on between Big Tech and Big Comms under the Trump administration.
The Department of Justice’s Makan Delrahim said in June that his agency might pursue Big Tech for anti-competitive behaviour. While in the same month, the FCC’s Chairman Ajit Pai said: “The greatest threat to a free and open internet has been the unregulated Silicon Valley tech giants that do, in fact, today decide what you see and what you don’t”. It might almost have come from a Big Comms crib sheet.
At the same time, Google has taken a $200 million hit, along with the poor publicity, to resolve an FTC investigation into YouTube’s violations of child privacy law. While Facebook was fined a staggering $5 billion for privacy violations.
Meanwhile, the FCC is loosening regulation on Big Comms, retiring some regulation and giving cableco’s more leverage to reach franchise agreements with municipalities.
The Sprint-T-Mobile merger is rattling on, having now gained both FCC and Justice Department approval (although it is still being challenged at a state level). To ease the way, the two companies have agreed to sell Sprint’s prepaid business (Boost Mobile) to Dish Network (a satellite TV company), along with spectrum and hundreds of retail locations. They also have to provide access to T-Mobile’s network for seven years to give Dish chance to build out its own 5G network.
The interesting question here is what the new company will be called. Our contribution is T-Mint – a fresh take on mobile comms.
Within the context of Trump’s America First policy, AT&T and Verizon have also been redrawn as unlikely heroes – 5G athletes competing in a global race (and we know how Americans like to win medals). But it’s an interesting if slightly unlikely rebranding of big corporates that have previously been heavily criticised for their ponderous, oligopolistic behaviour and sub-optimal customer service.
The big issue on most of the industry’s minds, apart from 5G, is what the DC Circuit Court will decide about the FCC’s rewriting of net neutrality rules.
Quick recap: In 2015, the FCC ruled that broadband was a Title II telecoms service, which made it subject to common-carrier rules. The result was the death of the golden age of broadband investment in the US. Carriers didn’t know whether broadband rates would be regulated or whether network elements would be required to be unbundled. So they stopped investing. Recognising the problem, along with regime change, the FCC restored broadband as a Title I information service in 2018, meaning that it was once again subject to light-touch regulation. Now, the DC Circuit Court is considering whether the 2018 order is in fact valid.
If the order is upheld, it could open the floodgates to increased investment in the US and a further rebalancing of power between Big Tech and Big Comms, which had previously lobbied hard for net neutrality rules.