Pai to leave FCC on January 20 – RCR Wireless News

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has announced his intention to step down as chairman on January 20, the same day that President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated.

Pai leaves the FCC after four years with multiple moves to streamline infrastructure deployment by establishing shot-clocks for review, superseding local regulations and limiting local review and undoing telecom rules that had originated during the Obama administration, such as the repeal of net neutrality regulation of broadband and a DSRC mandate that has since been shifted to sharing of the band between unlicensed and transportation communications. Pai has overseen a dramatic expansion of available spectrum, particularly in the millimeter wave bands, championed controversial incentive payments to satellite operators in exchange for rapid clearing of C Band spectrum and supported the mega-merger of T-Mobile US and Sprint on the grounds that it would advance 5G deployments and rural broadband access. While many of the controversial decisions have resulted in party-line votes, his FCC has also taken heat for some that passed with bipartisan support — including criticism from other federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation, that their concerns on spectrum-related issues were ignored.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission, including as Chairman of the FCC over the past four years. I am grateful to President Trump for giving me the opportunity to lead the agency in 2017, to President Obama for appointing me as a Commissioner in 2012, and to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the Senate for
twice confirming me,” Pai said in a statement. “To be the first Asian-American to chair the FCC has been a particular privilege. As I often say: only in America.”

He added that the FCC’s staff has “performed heroically, especially during the pandemic” and that the commission has executed a “strong and broad agenda” during his term as chair.

“Together, we’ve delivered for the American people over the past four years: closing the digital divide; promoting innovation and competition, from 5G on the ground to broadband from space; protecting consumers; and advancing public safety,” Pai said. “And this FCC has not shied away from making tough choices. As a result, our nation’s communications networks are now faster, stronger, and more widely deployed than ever before.”

Pai also said he was proud of the FCC’s productivity, citing five spectrum auctions and two rural broadband reverse auctions in four years, opening more than 1,200 megahertz of midband spectrum for unlicensed use and
“aggressively protecting our communications networks from national security threats at home and abroad.”

Pai’s resignation clears the way for the shift from a Republican majority on the FCC to a Democratic one, with the change in administration. Pai’s departure could give Democrats a 2-1 majority, or a 2-2 split depending on what happens with the ongoing nomination process. The third currently Republican seat (in addition to Pai’s and Commissioner Brendan Carr’s) is in transition, with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s term ending this year. O’Rielly’s re-nomination to the FCC was abruptly yanked by the Trump administration, and Nathan Simington, a telecom lawyer who has been holding a senior advisor position at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration since June, was nominated to replace him. Simington recently had a nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, but has yet to be confirmed and it is unclear if his nomination will be taken up before the end of the congressional session.

His exit also means that the next chairman will be tossed the hot potato of Section 230 reform, among other telecom policy issues. The prospect of changing the interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Act, which shields social media companies from liability for the content its users post, has drawn bipartisan interest (and presidential tweets) but for markedly different reasons and with very different strategies and desired outcomes.

Industry associations reacted to the news of Pai’s imminent departure with praise for his leadership of the agency.

Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), said in a statement that the organization “is forever grateful to Chairman Pai for utilizing his platform at the FCC to help shine a spotlight on the prominent role that the tower technician workforce plays to enable a connected society. For example, in 2018, Chairman Pai participated in a tower climb at a site in Colorado with numerous NATE member companies in order to experience first-hand the safe work practices, diverse skill sets, knowledge base and work-ethic that are required of today’s tower technicians to conduct safe and successful wireless deployments. It was this type of proactive, roll-up-your sleeves leadership which was a hallmark of Chairman Pai’s tenure.”

“This has been a historic Chairmanship: the most spectrum freed up for commercial wireless use, long overdue reforms of 30-year-old infrastructure deployment rules, and a commitment to serving consumer needs and the broader public interest by leveraging private sector competition and innovation,” said CTIA President and CEO Meredith Atwell Baker in a statement. “Thanks to Chairman Pai’s leadership, we are poised to maintain our position as the world’s innovation hub and lead the emerging 5G economy.”

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association’s president and CEO, Claude Aiken, praised Pai’s focus on expanding rural broadband access. “His dedication to reducing the digital divide, in particular in rural America, is without parallel,” Aiken said in a statement. “All of this helped American broadband consumers win and live better lives as a result. We expect he’ll be an important part of the policy discussion for years to come, and we wish him the best as he goes on to his next stage in his career.”

Pai’s departure is likely to intensify conversations around who will take over as FCC chair under the incoming administration and how quickly that person could be confirmed by the Senate. The two current Democratic members of the FCC are Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks; former FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn may also under consideration for the role, and is part of the Biden transition team focused on the FCC. That transition team is led by John Williams, who is senior counsel for the House Judiciary Committee and was previously senior counsel and senior agency official for privacy with the FCC.

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Kagan: Will President Biden continue to block Huawei, ZTE?

Will Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE, who have been blocked from doing business in the USA by the Trump administration because of security issues, now be cleared under the Biden administration? Many have wondered whether this problem was real or political. Biden won’t answer that question, but are changes in the air regardless?

Huawei and ZTE have been under the microscope of the U.S. government for a decade or longer because of these security issues. They missed out on much of the 4G opportunity in the United States a decade ago. However, worldwide they still grew.

Now that 5G is becoming a rapidly growing sector, they want a piece of that pie as well. Even here in the USA.

President Trump continued the blockage, keeping them out of the 5G growth opportunity in the United States. In fact, the blockage increased. It started with larger wireless carriers and now it has expanded to all players, large and small.

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The 5G expansion itself puts enormous financial pressure on smaller carriers. Now mix in the Huawei factor and it’s even harder.

That’s one reason many smaller carriers may ultimately sell out to larger carriers, who have the deep pockets to upgrade their networks.

Many think the Chinese government helps Huawei offer discounts which make them more attractive in a competitive world.

One reason is to allow Huawei to continue to grow and be one of the dominant companies in the wireless industry.

Does Huawei, ZTE gear give China ability to monitor communications?

Another second reason many are concerned, is the question about whether this would give them the ability to monitor communications in the countries they operate.

This concern is not new. According to the U.S. government, this has been on our radar for more than a decade. There are plenty of worries, plenty of stories, but we still don’t seem to have any proof. That being said, it puts the U.S. government in a precarious position.

That’s why since there is no proof either way, the U.S. government is taking the only safe position and blocking any potential threat.

U.S. government blocked potential security threat from Huawei, ZTE

Now, if Joe Biden is our next president, will he relax the pushback and let Huawei and ZTE back into the U.S. markets to one degree or another? Or will he keep up the blockade?

That’s an interesting question that I do not have an answer to. In fact, no one has an answer. So, we will have to simply wait and see what happens next.

Many say if the Biden administration allows Huawei and ZTE back in without any proof either way, they could put us in a dangerous position.

If Joe Biden has been doing business with China for decades, he would have a softer view of the threat.

Is Huawei, ZTE security threat real or just political?

There has been strong pushback against companies like Huawei and ZTE for many years and that only continues. It didn’t start with the Trump Administration. It just continued.

I have met with Huawei executives several times at analyst and media briefings. I have learned they are nice people.

That being said, the question of whether they are a real threat or just a political threat is still unanswered. We’ll just have to keep our eyes open to see what happens in the next chapter of this ongoing story.

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The current state of 5G deployments in the UK

The U.K. is one of the most developed markets in Europe in terms of 5G deployments. The country’s four mobile operators have already launched 5G technologies in the U.K.’s main cities as well as in several small and medium-sized cities.


EE, part of telecom group BT, is currently offering 5G services in 112 towns and cities across the country.

EE launched the U.K.’s first 5G service in May 2019 and initially covered parts of London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester. Other large cities in which the telco now offers 5G coverage includes Aberdeen, Blackpool, Bristol, Covently,  Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield and Sunderland.

EE also expects to launch 5G in parts of Cambridge, Derby, Gloucester, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Southampton and Worcester before the end of 2020.

EE previously said that the commercial launch was the first phase of the telco’s 5G rollout: a Non-standalone 5G New Radio deployment focused on using the combined power of 4G and 5G technologies. Phase 2, from 2022, will introduce the full 5G core network, enhanced device chipset capabilities, and increased availability of 5G-ready spectrum.

A third phase, beginning in 2023, will introduce Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), network slicing and multi-gigabit-per-second speeds. This phase of 5G will enable critical applications like real-time traffic management of fleets of autonomous vehicles and massive sensor networks.


Vodafone initially launched 5G services in the U.K in July of 2019. The carrier initially offered this technology in parts of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Manchester, and Glasgow.

According to the telco’s website, Vodafone’s 5G services are available in 57 locations across the country. Other key cities where the company provides 5G coverage are Belfast, Edinburgh, Leeds, Portsmouth, Reading, Southampton and Swansea.

Vodafone has been recently working with partners including Ericsson, MediaTek, OPPO and Qualcomm for the deployment of SA 5G in the country.


Three initially launched 5G services in the country in August 2019, with the initial offering of a high-speed 5G broadband service in parts of London.

Three currently offers 5G in approximately 70 cities in the U.K, including Aberdeen, , Bath, Bedford, Birmingham, Blackpool, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Dundee, Glasgow, Ipswich, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Luton, Manchester, Nottingham, Plymouth, Reading, Swansea and Wigan.


O2, owned by Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica, recently announced that its 5G network now serves a total of 108 towns and cities across the country.

O2 launched its 5G network in the UK in October 2019. O2’s 5G network was initially available in certain areas of Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Slough and Leeds. The carrier said that the initial focus for its 5G network was on highly populated areas including railway stations, shopping centers and sports stadiums.

The carrier is deploying its 5G infrastructure in partnership with Nordic vendors Ericsson and Nokia.

5G spectrum

In August, U.K. regulator Ofcom had announced plans to hold a 5G spectrum auction in January 2021.

Ofcom stated the auction would cover the sale of 80 megahertz in the 700 MHz band and 120 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.6 GHz-3.8 GHz band.

Ofcom has imposed a 37% cap on overall spectrum holdings. As a result, BT and EE will be allowed to obtain a maximum of 120 megahertz, while Three and Vodafone will be able to secure up to 185 megahertz and 190 megahertz respectively. Due to its current spectrum holdings, O2 will not be restricted by the cap, Ofcom said.

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