What does Trump mean for telecoms?

Jason McGee-Abe
Published on:

Net neutrality has been a fiercely fought battle in the US. What does Trump’s election mean for telecoms and the internet?

President-elect Donald Trump is not a strong supporter of net neutrality and thinks that it leads to the censorship of conservative media.

This is just one of the changes the telecoms industry in the US will have to get used to after Trump’s surprise victory in yesterday’s election.

“Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media,” he tweeted in 2014.

The Fairness Doctrine was a 1940s FCC policy, which ended in 1987, and Trump’s remarks suggested that net neutrality regulations would lead to censorship of online media that doesn’t include opposing opinions. But net neutrality regulations aren’t linked to the content on the internet.

Trump, who started off his business empire with a “small $1 million loan”, said at a campaign rally at the end of 2015 that the US should consider “closing up” the internet to curb radical extremism.

“We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet,” Trump said at the rally in South Carolina. “We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some ways. Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.”

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA) shortlisted him in the Internet Villain Award category at its 2016 Awards as a result of his remarks, which they said showed “a complete lack of understanding of how the web works”.

Internet services have been shut down in China – with most social networking sites banned – as well as in North Korea and also in Egypt during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. But Trump’s stance seems unlikely to work in the US as there are so many internet service providers (ISPs) there.

Taking away certain internet services would require broadband companies and ISPs to turn off their towers and fibre networks and to restrict satellite access.

Trump’s views on net neutrality are seemingly consistently unclear and, as far as the tech industry in general goes, its full weight was behind Hillary Clinton.

The results of the US Presidential election on 8 November will no doubt go down in the history books not only for the differing views of the candidates on traditional political areas but also because of their views on the internet.

For the first time it became a hot subject in the US race and net neutrality became a regular topic in headlines.

Net neutrality has implemented heavier common-carrier regulations on broadband services. Mobile and fixed operators are prohibited from blocking or throttling. ISPs cannot prioritise paid traffic over their networks and create fast lanes.

The US Telecom Association and other groups have argued net neutrality laws violated broadband providers’ rights under the first amendment to the US constitution. They filed a lawsuit claiming the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) didn’t have the right to reclassify broadband as a utility.

However, net neutrality rules in the US have been reinforced over the last few months, particularly in light of an appeals court upholding the government’s open internet rules.

Unsuccessful Democratic party candidate Hillary Clinton expressed concern that regulations could mean stagnant competition among service providers, saying: “We’ve got to do more about how we incentivise competition in broadband.”

The FCC’s rules were supported by retiring President Barack Obama and were likely to continue if Clinton had won the election. She detailed her tech agenda, stating she “strongly supports” the FCC’s tough net neutrality rules and, according to her campaign’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation, she “would defend these rules in court and continue to enforce them”.

That would have put her at odds with cable and phone internet providers, but several Silicon Valley leaders endorsed Clinton’s campaign. They included Netflix’s Reed Hastings, Irwin Jacobs of Qualcomm, former Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus and Eric Schmidt of Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

During a Clinton fundraising swing through California, Apple CEO Tim Cook hosted one of three events on her behalf. It was believed Clinton’s campaign raised $4 million from the tech industry as opposed to Trump’s $200,000.

But that’s history. Trump will be inaugurated on Friday 20 January. It’s likely that he will appoint his own chair of the FCC. He also has to nominate a member of the supreme court, the court that is charged with interpreting and protecting the constitution, including rights to freedom of speech. After that the world of telecoms in the US – and the rest of the world – will be very different.