Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

What to know about the FCC in 2017

(This is part 1 in a 2-part look at the FCC)

The Federal Communications Commission regulates radio, television, wire, satellite and cable communications across the U.S. The commission’s regulations can affect broadband access, connectivity and other matters that can directly affect entrepreneurs. That makes knowing what the FCC does and who is in charge important.

Given the start of a new administration, here’s a primer on what you should know about the FCC:

The new makeup of the FCC

In late January, President Trump announced Ajit Pai, a Republican, as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Pai does not need to be confirmed by the Senate to serve as chair, but his five-year term will be up at the end of 2017. He will need to be reconfirmed by the Senate to serve another term (This seems likely given that both chambers hold Republican majorities.).

Pai has served on the Commission since May 2012, and has an extensive background in D.C. With the absences of Wheeler and Rosenworcel, the current FCC is made up of Pai, Democrat Mignon Clyburn and Republican Michael O’Rielly. So, the FCC needs one more Republican and one more Democrat to return to full capacity.

What happened to the other two commissioners?

Former Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, both Democrats, stepped down this year. Rosenworcel was forced to leave after the U.S. Senate took no action on reconfirming her for another term. Wheeler stepped down voluntarily, as is common with a new president, especially in a party change.

In a fun twist, the White House resubmitted Rosenworcel to fill one of the vacancies left, well, by her. In the past she received unanimous support in her confirmation and has support from the industry and members on Capitol Hill in both parties. Her departure from the FCC was not based on her own doings, but her nomination became tied up in another political fight. It might be a long shot, but it isn’t impossible for her to be placed back on as a commissioner.

What does the FCC do?

There are seven bureaus in the FCC that all play critical roles in communications, but the bureau that likely impacts Iowa entrepreneurs the most is the Wireline Competition Bureau.

The WCB holds jurisdiction over the Open Internet Order — otherwise known as net neutrality. Net neutrality remains a divisive issue, as philosophies of what policies encourage innovation clash.

Pai voted against the Open Internet Order – approved by a 3-2 vote — when it came before the FCC in 2015.

The FCC also has jurisdiction over the E-Rate Program, which helps schools and districts receive funds for deploying broadband, and the Lifeline program, which was first put in place to ensure low-income families had access to a telephone in their home.

Both programs were expanded under Wheeler. E-Rate was updated to set aside more funding for schools and libraries for improving internal Wi-Fi connectivity. Prior to the update, the availability for funding outpaced the need for broadband 2-to-1.

The Lifeline Program was updated to include a subsidy of $9.25/month for standalone service or bundled voice and data-service packages. The driving force behind the proposal is to bridge the “homework gap”. As educators increasingly choose digital content for delivery, the FCC thought it was a priority to update this program so all students to have access to decrease disparity in internet access.

Because access to broadband and connectivity holds so much potential, the leader of the FCC increasingly has more power. The second part of this series will take a deeper look at Pai and his background, along with where he stands on issues that affect Iowa entrepreneurs.

Susan Gentz is the deputy executive director for the Center for Digital Education and a contributing writer for Clay & Milk.

What to know about the FCC in 2017 | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
This Pop-up Is Included in the Theme
Best Choice for Creatives
Purchase Now