While much of the tech policy focus in 2019 will be centered on scrutinizing social media platforms and whether consumers’ privacy is being adequately protected, there also will be opportunities for bipartisan efforts to move key technology initiatives. Here are four things to know about how the 2018 elections will impact tech policy in 2019.
1. Focus on rural broadband. With Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., most likely to become its next chairman, the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to maintain its strong focus on rural broadband issues.
A key part of that focus will be oversight of the Universal Service Fund (USF). Much of that oversight is expected to focus on the USF Mobility Fund II, which will disburse $4.5 billion in rural broadband support, particularly to wireless providers. Wicker also will be expected to focus on the accuracy of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) eligibility map. The committee will work to ensure Mobility Fund Phase II money will not flow to areas where private capital is already at work, as Wicker views the FCC map as significantly flawed.
Broadband infrastructure is also expected to continue to be a key focus of policymakers looking to close the rural-urban digital divide. In particular, they will continue to focus on speeding deployment of next-generation 5G wireless services, including streamlining procedures for state and local authorities to approve requests to install compatible small-cell wireless equipment. Potential additional funding for broadband infrastructure deployment is also expected to be a topic of oversight and examination.
2. Focus on privacy. Consumer privacy will be a major priority for Congress in 2019. While some Democrats may push for federal legislation that mirrors the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation or the California Consumer Privacy Act, it’s unlikely bipartisan consensus will exist in Congress to approve such a regulatory framework. The Trump administration has also made privacy a policy priority within the Department of Commerce via the National Telecommunications Information Administration. Seeking to get ahead of federal and state government regulation or legislative activity, companies such as Facebook are expected to unveil their own privacy proposals to help move the debate forward on this key policy issue.
The Senate Commerce Committee (and likely the other committees with policy jurisdiction) is expected to hold more hearings on privacy next year. The administration is expected to continue its leadership role from both the NTIA and Federal Trade Commission, too.
The broad umbrella of the privacy issue has expanded since the 2016 presidential election, with the issue of election integrity sitting front and center. To that end, the issue of cybersecurity may be an integrated, necessary part of any comprehensive privacy legislation that may gain traction on Capitol Hill.
3. Renewing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act. Video marketplace policy is also expected to gain a good deal of attention next year, as the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act expires at the end of 2019. The law, which authorizes the satellite compulsory distant signal license for five years, previously served as a legislative vehicle to carry priorities important to multichannel video programming distributors such as cable and satellite operators. Updating video policy remains a ripe issue for congressional examination, particularly in light of the rapid proliferation of online video providers and consumer offerings.
In turn, both the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Energy and Commerce committees are expected to hold multiple hearings on the state of the media marketplace. Among the broad issues of focus would not only be the myriad video options available to consumers but also consumer behavior, marketplace trends and evolving business models. The issue of regulatory parity between industries still covered by legacy communications laws and newer digital media platforms is expected to get significant attention too.
While many in the media industry would like to see satellite reauthorization become a vehicle for change, the broadcast industry has already staked out its position, advocating that Congress let the law expire at the end of 2019, arguing that the provisions it reauthorizes are narrow and unnecessary.
4. Overarching interest in all things 5G. Congress will remain focused on “the race to 5G,” continuing to focus on another key issue that enjoys bipartisan support. Specific attention will be centered on how policymakers can facilitate deployment of 5G. The overall infrastructure issues will also be central, particularly in regard to paving the way for small-cell technologies on the state and local levels.
Congress will also be monitoring the broadcast television repack, where television stations have been assigned to new channels to free up more commercial spectrum. Additional committee focus will be on the positive impact additional spectrum would have on the bourgeoning Internet of Things, as well as the privacy issues raised with this new technology.
Other emerging technologies expected to get attention are artificial intelligence, the many issues surrounding driverless car technology and consumer issues surrounding the emerging blockchain marketplace.