FCC will suspend most activity as government shutdown drags on

The agency's 5G wireless spectrum auction is still a go, but forget about filing a consumer complaint.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
Chairman Ajit Pai (second from right) and commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel, Michael O'Rielly and Brendan Carr

Chairman Ajit Pai (second from right) and commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel, Michael O'Rielly and Brendan Carr will be among the few FCC employees showing up to work, while the agency is closed.


The Federal Communications Commission will shut down most of its operations on Thursday, if President Trump can't reach an agreement with Democrats over the federal government's partial shutdown.

The FCC said Wednesday that without funding it will cease most activities as of midday Jan. 3, "other than those immediately necessary for the protection of life or property, performing other excepted activities, or those funded through a source other than lapsed appropriations."

As a result of the shutdown, a majority of the agency's employees will be furloughed, with fewer than 20 percent who will continue working. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the three commissioners -- Michael O'Rielly, Brendan Carr and the lone Democrat on the commission, Jessica Rosenworcel -- will continue to work.

One thing not affected by the shutdown will be the agency's first 5G wireless spectrum auction, which is auctioning off licenses in the 28 gigahertz and 24 GHz spectrum bands, according to the FCC. The auction will resume as scheduled on Thursday. The auction, which began in November, was paused during the holiday break and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, but will likely wrap up soon.

Watch this: 5G smartphones are coming

5G is the wireless technology that promises to be significantly faster and more responsive than previous generations of wireless. The FCC plans to conduct 5G auctions in three other spectrum bands in 2019.

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 after the House of Representatives and Senate failed to come to agreement on President Trump's demand for $5 billion to fund work on a border wall. The shutdown is expected to continue even after Democrats officially take control of the House of Representatives on Thursday, when the new Congress convenes in Washington.

Still, the shutdown at the agency will affect hundreds of federal workers, as well as millions of consumers. The agency will suspend its consumer complaint and inquiry lines and will cease all consumer protection and enforcement activity. It will also suspend any licensing activity for the broadcast, wireless or wireline industries, which it regulates. This means the agency will temporarily put on hold merger reviews, like that for the Sprint-T-Mobile deal, which is pending.

The FCC will also suspend testing of devices that must be authorized by the agency for sale in the US.

You can read the commission's full orderly shutdown plans on its website.

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