O’Rielly: Congressional Action on 911 Fees Would Help

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly says that while the FCC is “having some success” in getting states to stop engaging in 911 fee diversion, legislative action by Congress to address the issue would be helpful.

Commissioner O’Rielly was responding to a question about the extent of the FCC’s legal authority to address the issue during a panel session with fellow Commissioner Brendan Carr at a Federal Communications Bar Association seminar here on Saturday.  Commissioner O’Rielly recently sought and received assurances from the governor of Puerto Rico that the territory will not divert future 911 fees for non-911 purposes before the commissioner voted to allocate $750 million in universal service funding to support the restoration and expansion of communications networks in Puerto Rico (TR Daily, May 4).

Asked by moderator Scott Blake Harris, chairman of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP, whether Commissioners hear different things from stakeholders when they travel around the country than they do in Washington, Commissioner Carr said, “We get to see both sides of the digital divide.”  He recalled meeting “farmers with coffee mugs full of USB drives” that they use to download data from drones because the drones can’t get a wireless connection to the Internet during their daily travels across the farmers’ acreage.

In response to a question about 5G wireless deployment, Mr. Carr emphasized that beyond spectrum and wireless facilities, an “important third piece is having a skilled workforce not only to deploy these networks” but to make use of the networks.  He added that while large companies may be able to “self-provision” training workers in these skills, it’s important to think about “reorienting” Department of Labor programs to support medium and small companies in worker training.

Mr. Harris asked whether the FCC’s enforcement process is “as effective as it should be.”

Commissioner Carr said, “I think we’re really heading in a good direction on the Enforcement Bureau and the leadership we have under Rosemary [Harold, the bureau chief].”  He added that robocalling and pirate radio have been “elevated” as enforcement priorities, while the agency is “reorienting away from seeking headlines” by issuing attention-grabbing large fines.

Mr. Harris asked whether the greater public prominence of FCC issues which has burned FCC Commissioners into “public personalities in ways they weren’t before” has had an impact on the agency’s decision-making process.

“I am more noticeable than I used to be,” Commissioner O’Rielly acknowledged, noting that comedian “John Oliver … called me the most boring man in America.”  He said that he had recently been recognized by a member of the general public at an airport.  However, he said, “I really try to stay grounded in the issues.”  Still, the public prominence can help in trying “to move issues in the right direction,” he said.

Commissioner Carr said that “a lot” of the debate over net neutrality has moved “the wide grounds [where] reasonable minds [can] disagree,” adding, “I think every member of the Commission has received death threats over that.”

“I think some of the characterization that we saw out there didn’t do the issue credit, didn’t do the American public credit,” Mr. Carr said.

From the audience, Julie Kearney, vice president–regulatory affairs for the Consumer Technology Association, asked what advice they would offer the yet-to-be-nominated individual who will take Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn’s place on the FCC.

“I look forward to get to know that individual,” said Commissioner O’Rielly.  “If I’ve done something they think is wrong, come and talk to me about it,” he continued, adding, “My family was always don’t stab me in the back, stab me in the front.”

Commissioner Carr said that Commissioner Clyburn is going to be hard to replace, praising how she would be ready to discuss each new issue, despite what disagreements might have occurred on the last decision, and “not just go to corners on every issue.” —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com