What a Divided Congress Means for Telecom

A Democratic House and Republican Senate can, in theory, align on issues that affect telecom. However the window is short due to the looming 2020 presidential election. Infrastructure has a chance at bipartisan cooperation, but according to Roll Call, Democrats want to spend more federal government dollars than Republicans, who prefer to rely more on private-sector investment.  Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who hopes to regain her role as House Speaker, committed to pursuing broadband development as one of her goals in the new session of Congress.

That goal dovetails with what the Wireless Infrastructure Association would like to see. While still sorting through the results yesterday, WIA Head of Legislative Affairs Matt Mandel told Inside Towers that, in general, “Our job remains the same regardless of who controls Congress: to educate all members on the important role wireless infrastructure plays in economic growth, broadband deployment, and global competitiveness. I think infrastructure will certainly be a priority and our belief, which is shared by members of both parties, is that broadband infrastructure should be a part of any comprehensive infrastructure package.”

The National Association of Tower Erectors, too, lobbies Washington on behalf of its members on issues such as rural broadband, streamlining the deployment of wireless infrastructure and workforce development. NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway said NATE’s priority issues “are and will continue to be bipartisan so the association is well positioned to continue to work with U.S. Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle” on committees with jurisdiction over its policy issues.

With Democrats back in control of House committees, key committees with oversight of the FCC and telecom policy will get new leadership. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is at the top of that list.  

The controlling political party has the prerogative to name committee chairs. That means come January when the new Congress is seated, current chair Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), is out and expect Ranking Member Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), to be in. He’s expected to push his LIFT America infrastructure package, which would include money for broadband deployment, according to Politico.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), is the Ranking Democrat on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. He’s expected to chair the subcommittee. Current chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), is moving to the Senate. Schlekeway called her election win “great news” for the wireless infrastructure industry and noted she has been a champion of industry priorities. Blackburn “would be a natural fit” if named to the Senate Commerce Committee, according to Schlekeway.

Committee member Rep. Leonard Lance (R), an advocate for freeing up more government-held spectrum for commercial use, lost to Democrat Tom Malinowski, a veteran of the Obama State Department.

Two committee members and prime sponsors of the bipartisan Communications Jobs Training Act legislation, Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), were re-elected. Both Rep. Loebsack and Rep. Mullin plan to introduce workforce development legislation when the new Congress convenes in 2019. Their re-election is “great news” for the ultimate prospects of the bill, according to Schlekeway. NATE also anticipates that a companion version of the Communications Jobs Training Act legislation will be introduced in the U.S. Senate in 2019.

WIA intends to continue to draw attention to siting reform, spectrum and workforce issues in the new Congress, according to Mandel.

Republicans strengthened control of the Senate. On the Senate Commerce Committee, Ranking Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida appeared to narrowly lose to the state’s governor, Republican Rick Scott. However, CNN reported Wednesday, the margin was so small, state law would trigger a recount. Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota won and Jon Tester of Montana, was projected to win as of yesterday afternoon. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of Texas won his race, but fellow Republican Dean Heller of Nevada lost to Democrat Jacky Rosen.

Roger Wicker (R-MS), who chairs the Communications, Technology, Innovation and Internet Subcommittee, won his race. Committee Chair, John Thune (R-SD), was not up for re-election.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

November 8, 2018

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