FCC VETERAN RETURNS TO HEAD POLICY PLANNING DIVISION

FCC

A veteran of the Federal Communications Commission is returning to the agency to head up the division that quietly plays a substantial role in shaping the commission’s policy priorities.

Paul de Sa led the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis under former Chairman Julius Genachowski before leaving in 2012 to become the senior U.S. telecommunications analyst at Bernstein Research. He’s returning to his earlier role, the FCC announced Aug. 16, replacing acting OSP Chief Elizabeth Biley Andrion.

De Sa’s return to the fold naturally raises a question: Just what regulatory philosophy will he bring to an agency that, when he last served, still had a reputation for inertia but has since been kicked into hyperdrive under Chairman Tom Wheeler? What sorts of forward-looking priorities will the OSP set under de Sa? As it happens, de Sa took part in an October 2014 panel discussion that may offer some hints.

The discussion, available on YouTube, was part of a conference the Duke Law Center for Innovation Policy convened on the theme of internet regulation in the year 2020. De Sa was there largely to talk about what direction he thought the telecom market might take by 2020 — he foresees relative stability, with no real shakeups in either the fixed or mobile broadband markets — but he also addressed regulators’ roles.

As a general rule, de Sa said he doesn’t see a problem with a telecom duopoly in any given area, even if one of the service offerings available is inferior to the other.

“I’d be willing to stipulate two pipes,” he said. “There’s generally room for segmentation, so not every product has to be homogeneous … Even if you have two pipes, even if you were to stipulate one pipe is — on a physical, supply-side, technical basis — inferior, that doesn’t necessarily lead to an immediate conclusion about consumer welfare, or pricing, or anything, really.”

De Sa said it’s “not clear if it’s good public policy” to try and use Universal Service Fund subsidies or other means to spur the building out of networks to compete with such a duopoly.

He also had no qualms about zero rating, the practice of exempting certain services from data caps that is a hot topic in the ongoing net neutrality debate. De Sa said he saw more zero-rating deals between content providers and broadband providers and more zero-rating of providers’ own content as the biggest coming change in the market.