Government shutdown forces FCC to take a break from kissing up to big telecom.
The FCC suspended most operations on Thursday afternoon as a result of the ongoing government shutdown over a dumb fence many argue creates far more problems than it solves. The resulting shutdown has left 800,000 government employees furloughed without pay, while garbage and human waste begin to pile up at the nation’s staff-depleted national park system.
According to the FCC, “all FCC activities will cease” as of mid-day Thursday, “other than those immediately necessary for the protection of life or property, performing other excepted activities, or those funded through a source other than lapsed appropriations.”
The shutdown also appears to have forced agency head Ajit Pai to cancel this year’s visit to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a trip he was also forced to suspend last year due to death threats over his extremely unpopular repeal of net neutrality rules.
In an additional public notice posted to the FCC website, the agency said most of its more automated functions—like the FCC’s controversially-flawed public comment system and its network and 911 outage reporting systems—will remain online and operational during the closure. As will spectrum auctions, as they’re funded by the auctions themselves.
Given the internet’s disdain for Pai’s tendency to rubber stamp each and every whim of big telecom, the closure isn’t likely to be met with much sympathy, and more than a few jokes about how the agency wasn’t doing much to help the public anyway.
But 1,197 of the FCC’s 1,442 employees will be furloughed without pay for however long the shutdown lasts, with just 245 sticking around as part of a bare-bones effort to keep the FCC afloat. Many of these employees engage in essential day to day operations often overshadowed by many of the agency’s more controversial recent policy decisions.
That means new FCC hardware and device testing and approval will grind to a halt, management of wireless spectrum will be suspended, and any ongoing investigations or merger review inquiries will be put on hold.
While a shutdown of a few days shouldn’t be a problem, a longer shutdown could put a serious damper on the agency’s agenda, former FCC lawyer Gigi Sohn told Motherboard.
“If the shutdown lasts more than a couple of days, the FCC’s operations will be severely hobbled,” Sohn said. “Work on everything but spectrum auctions and matters affecting life and property will be halted—FCC employees cannot take meetings, check emails or do FCC work of any kind. This of course includes all actions on consumer complaints involving their cable, broadband and mobile providers.”
That said, Pai did joke on Twitter that the agency will still be policing those that attempt to use naughty words on television, for whatever it’s worth.
That said, if you’re waiting for the FCC to actually act on consumer complaints about terrible broadband service, Comcast’s skyrocketing cable TV fees, or giant ISPs’ ongoing efforts to unfairly disadvantage smaller streaming competitors, the shutdown won’t be all that different from the agency’s usual day-to-day operations under Ajit Pai.