The latest adviser named to President-elect Donald Trump’s Federal Communications Commission transition team comes from a new sector of the telecommunications market at odds with the old, and has been publicly silent on issues like net neutrality.
David Morken, an entrepreneur from Raleigh, N.C., joined the team of staunch net neutrality opponents this week. Morken is a co-founder and chairman of Republic Wireless, a small wireless carrier that’s received top reviews from Consumer Reports, media and praise by customers for innovative services like WiFi calling and data use buyback to keep bills cheap.
He’s also co-founder and CEO of Bandwidth, Republic’s parent company (though a split is planned as both have grown) and a voice-over-IP and data service provider for businesses, whose clients include competing VoIP and WiFi cell carriers Project FI (a subsidiary of Alphabet), Google Voice, and Microsoft Skype.
Republic has 300,000 subscribers with plans averaging $15 monthly, and is increasingly seen as a consumer- friendly, reliable alternative to larger carriers. A battle is brewing between the the two sectors as larger carriers look to begin using technology known as LTE-U to begin offloading their crowded networks onto the WiFi networks Republic and others rely on for their primary service.
WiFi broadcasts over unlicensed airwaves, searching for an open channel before broadcasting. LTE-U executes a check but will broadcast immediately on the least-congested frequency instead of waiting for an open channel. Critics say that will cause WiFi interference.
Incumbent carriers supporting LTE-U believe the two can coexist without interference, but Google and others are skeptical. Both have presented their cases to the FCC, which has launched a proceeding to examine the issue.
As a condition for approving LTE-U, Morken wants the FCC to approve technology known as WiFi-L, which would let WiFi networks use airwaves licensed for use by carriers when available.
“LTE_U principally benefits carriers,” Morken tweeted last December. “WiFi_L benefits households.”
The dynamic could make Morken less sympathetic to the industry than his fellow advisers, something he indicated to the Wall Street Journal in early December.
“Traditional Republican telecom policy has favored incumbents who are heavily engaged in regulatory capture over innovators like us,” Morken said. Though a Republican, every election forces Morken to “choose between voting personal conviction or business interests.”
Morken could be the strongest advocate for smaller telecom industry players in the new FCC. His colleagues, all American Enterprise Institute fellows who’ve written extensively in opposition to net neutrality and other Democrat-led rulemakings at the FCC, hail from the incumbent side of the industry.
Jeff Eisenach was a consultant for Verizon, Mark Jamison a lobbyist for Sprint and Roslyn Layton worked for telecom industry consulting firm Strand Consult.
The FCC’s two Republican Commissioners, who will take majority control of the agency in January, have indicated their intent to readdress net neutrality as soon as possible.
Though Morken appears to have been silent on the issue, he retweeted a video advocating for net neutrality in India in April 2015 after the rules were already passed in the U.S., which included the hashtag “SaveTheInternet.”