2021 Predictions - Vol. XVIII, Issue 1

Date: Jan 04, 2021

We will see a surge of public-private broadband partnerships, driven in part by hundreds of millions of federal and state dollars targeted to them.  With huge funds to distribute as well as responsibility for tracking and rationalizing federal broadband spending, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will again become a major force in the broadband sphere.  Jim Baller, Partner

The FCC will refine its regulation of the joint use relationship between electric utility and telephone company pole owners, and more states will consider regulating pole attachments on their own.  Tom Magee, Partner

The new FCC administration will revisit net neutrality and seek to re-re-reclassify broadband Internet access service as a Title II “telecommunications service.” While this would be the third examination of this issue in as many administrations, Commissioner Rosenworcel (a potential candidate for FCC Chair) called the FCC’s decision this fall to uphold the current rules on remand a missed “opportunity for a do-over” and vowed to fight on.  Sean Stokes, Partner

The Universal Service Fund assessment rate for the first quarter of 2021 is a whopping 31.8% of interstate (and, in many cases, international) end user telecommunications charges.  Look for the new administration to attempt to tackle USF reform before the contribution system becomes unsustainable.  Greg Kunkle, Partner

Local and regional broadband initiatives will remain a bright spot and pressure will grow to eliminate state laws that restrict innovative projects and partnerships.  Universal service contribution reform will emerge as a major issue and will be a catalyst for a revived debate over FCC broadband regulatory authority.  Casey Lide, Partner

We could see significant federal funding allocated for a nationwide NG 911 system in 2021, spurred by an appetite for massive infrastructure investment, and a desire on Capitol Hill to close the digital divide.  If the federal government allocates $12 billion dollars for a nationwide NG911 upgrade – on the heels of passing Kari’s Law and RAY BAUM’s Act in the last few years – it could come with additional strings attached in the form of compliance obligations and strict implementation timelines.  Wes Wright, Partner

The Fixed Broadband Benchmark will be increased well above 25/3 Mbps, providing more realistic assessments of broadband availability throughout the United States.  The FCC will adopt meaningful improvements to broadband reporting and mapping, enabling the collection of useful broadband deployment data.  Doug Jarrett, Senior Counsel   

The change of party control of the FCC in 2021 will not result in a significant roll back of recent FCC pre-emption of state and local authority over wireless siting because the priority for faster expansion of 5G and wireless broadband fueled by remote education and telemedicine due to COVID will outweigh expanding local authority over wireless facilities.  Mike Fitch, Senior Counsel

We should see large-scale deployment of unlicensed transmitters in the newly re-allocated 6 GHz band, which could impact Critical Infrastructure incumbent licensees operating on the same spectrum.  Incumbent licensees should continue to be diligent in their efforts to audit existing systems to ensure that ULS data for 6 GHz licensed paths is accurate.  Tim Doughty, Associate

Now that the FCC has endorsed the 900 MHz band realignment, I expect Anterix to prioritize negotiations with incumbent, critical infrastructure 900 MHz licensees throughout the country to really transform the 900 MHz band in 2021.  Jason Chun, Law Graduate

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Keller and Heckman LLP's Telecom Alert is a complimentary weekly electronic update created by the Telecommunications Practice Group of Keller and Heckman LLP.  All articles, videos, and quotations are on topics of general interest and do not constitute legal advice for particularized facts.  Keller and Heckman LLP's Telecom Alert © 2021.  All rights reserved.  Articles may be copied with attribution.  To sign up for our weekly alert, please send us an email at telecomalert@khlaw.com and provide us with your name and email.  Please follow us on twitter at @KHtelecom.