Oral arguments are only one piece of the evidence the court will review in an extremely complicated case, but some observers believe that the judges tipped their hand at that proceeding, and expect a ruling to strike portions of the FCC's order, but not overturn the whole thing, in effect limiting — but not nullifying — the FCC's jurisdiction in regulating ISPs.
"In effect, we believe the panel intends to use a scalpel to cut out the most market-significant open Internet restrictions, not take a chainsaw to the FCC's rules and broadband authority," says Stifel analyst Christopher King.
Since the early days of the Obama administration, the FCC has identified mobile broadband as a top policy priority. To ensure that wireless carriers have the capacity to support the surge in data traffic on their networks driven by the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, the commission has determined that it needs to free up more spectrum to expand mobile bandwidth.
The commission had initially planned to move ahead with the next major step in that effort — a set of auctions that would reallocate spectrum from broadcasters to mobile broadband providers — next year. But 2013 was a year of transition at the FCC, with Chairman Julius Genachowski leaving the commission in May, replaced by an interim chair before the confirmation of Tom Wheeler to head the agency in November. About a month into his tenure, Wheeler announced that he was pushing back the auction initiative, anticipating the issuance of the order outlining the details of the process next year, with the auctions to be held mid-2015.
Mobile Devices, Unlocked and Ready for Takeoff
As the FCC works to expand wireless capacity on the backend, 2013 saw policy shifts in Washington that came in response to Americans' increasing reliance on their mobile devices. Early in the year, a petition on the White House website in support of permitting users to unlock their phones garnered the 100,000 signatures needed to prompt an official response. To the delight of the petitioners and consumer-advocacy groups, the White House responded that, yes, consumers should have that right. The FCC got on board, and in December, CTIA, the leading wireless trade group, announced that the major mobile carriers had agreed to a set of principles codifying the right, under certain conditions, to unlock mobile devices and to make that process more transparent.
Separately, the FCC advanced a plan that would permit airlines to relax their ban on using phones during flights to talk, text, email and surf the Web. The FCC's role in that process is technical in nature, and its proposed rulemaking suggests that the use of mobile devices in some conditions would not interfere with the aircraft's communications systems. At the same time, the Department of Transportation has indicated that will seek a prohibition on in-flight voice calls in response to the "concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and others who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight."
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