United States: Why Entrepreneurs Should Care About The FCC

Last Updated: July 29 2016
Article by Michael Pryor

You're an entrepreneur developing cutting edge technology, so why should you care about the Federal Communications Commission? If you think the FCC only regulates broadcasters and old-time telephone and cable companies, the following might surprise and interest you. While much attention is paid to FCC regulations that some argue stifle innovation – the net neutrality rules, for example– the FCC also plays a significant role in creating opportunities for innovation. Here are some highlights.

Did You Know That The FCC Regularly Holds Workshops Highlighting New Technologies?

These workshops, which are sometimes held outside of Washington, not only help the FCC keep up with innovations and inform future policies, but also afford entrepreneurs and emerging companies an opportunity to showcase their innovations. Here is a sample of recent technology workshops sponsored by the FCC:

  • Broadband Applications and Devices: A workshop to identify the technologies and packages of technologies that comprise the "killer apps" driving broadband use. The workshop was designed to aid Commission efforts to identify metrics and data-gathering techniques to track and evaluate broadband infrastructure deployments, and develop key broadband policies to foster broadband application and device investment, development, and use.
  • FCC/FDA Joint Workshop on Wireless Medical Device Test Beds: A workshop to explore how wireless medical test beds can influence the development of converged medical technology for clinical and non-clinical settings.
  • Technological Developments in the Millimeter Wave (mmW) Bands. A workshop on the development of devices using very high frequency wireless bands, including a demonstration illustrating some of the technologies enabling advanced wireless services in this band.
  • Broadband Health Technologies. This series of "outside the Beltway" workshops is designed to identify opportunities and further encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in the broadband health technology space.

You can view upcoming workshops and other events on the FCC's website here.

The FCC Loves to Hear From Smaller Companies About New Technologies

Many of the biggest technology companies have offices in Washington, D.C. staffed with lawyers and lobbyists. While the FCC constantly hears from those companies, it hears much less frequently from small entrepreneurs creating new devices and services based on the latest technologies. The FCC is especially interested in learning about technologies that can help address regulatory problems. For example:

  • The FCC in interested in technologies that could be used to identify and prevent illegal use of cellphones in prisons. The FCC has an ongoing proceeding to develop solutions to this problem.
  • The FCC is very interested in technologies that could block unwanted cell phone calls and texts. The FCC recently made clear that this kind of blocking is not unlawful and encouraged technological solutions.
  • The Internet of Things is exploding, and the FCC not only is watching developments, but also looking to making more unlicensed spectrum available and, like many other regulators, is worried about privacy and security.

If you are you working on relevant technology, consider whether reaching out to the FCC may be beneficial to your company. .

The FCC Routinely Waives Technical Rules That Stand in the Way of Innovation

Cutting edge devices that utilize wireless connections must often comply with specific technical requirements designed to minimize interference and radio frequency exposure. Sometimes these requirements can inhibit product design, marketing and sales. Often, a slight modification or waiver of the FCC requirements can clear the way to market your product without unduly undermining the purpose of the restriction. With the right advocacy, FCC staff can be persuaded to waive those requirements in such circumstances.

Heed the FCC Chairman's Call and Participate

One of the first actions that the current FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler did upon taking office was to visit Silicon Valley, where he asked entrepreneurs to get involved:

"We want you to be involved. Every action the FCC takes or declines to take has consequences. If you want those consequences to be positive, you should participate, with your insights about technology and the kind of ecosystem most conductive to technological progress and dynamism. It is not too much to say that the future depends on it."

It is always important to monitor regulatory developments that could impose new compliance obligations on your company. The regulator, however, is not always the enemy. The FCC has made it clear that it is interested in promoting new technologies and solutions to today's communications issues and challenges. By engaging in the kinds of programs and initiatives described above, you could help promote regulatory innovation that could be the key to unlocking your company's full potential.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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