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Policymakers worried shutdown will stall product approvals, cybersecurity work

After three weeks of a partial shutdown of the U.S. government, impacts to the technology, media and telecommunications industries include a sudden halt to regulatory approvals needed for new connected devices to hit the market and uncertain timing for the many cases pending in federal court, including the resolution of the U.S. Department of Justice's appeal of the AT&T Inc.'s acquisition of Time Warner Inc.

The stall in new technology approvals comes at an awkward time of year given that one of the world's largest technology trade shows, CES 2019, just wrapped up in Las Vegas. While companies are allowed to import radio frequency device products to use at trade shows that do not have U.S. Federal Communications Commission authorization, they cannot be marketed or sold without agency approval.

"The agency [FCC] certifies every innovative mobile phone, television, and computer that emits radio frequency before they can head to market. Guess what is not happening during the shutdown?" Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted on Jan. 8.

Meanwhile, federal courts are scrounging for money by redirecting funds not needed immediately to stay open, though "the resolution of cases and related services" is supposed to continue as an essential service even if funds run out. Among the cases pending on federal court dockets is a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit regarding the DOJ's appeal of the AT&T/Time Warner merger, which closed in June 2018. The appeals court heard oral arguments in the case in December 2018.

At the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the agency's recently established Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA — responsible for leading cybersecurity and critical infrastructure programs, operations and policy at DHS — is operating though roughly half-staffed, and workers on the job are not being paid. A spokesperson for the House Homeland Security Committee said that the committee's chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., is concerned about the ability to retain cybersecurity talent given the disruption to paychecks.

Scheduled appearances and reports clarifying future regulations for the TMT industries are also on hold. David Redl, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a U.S. Department of Commerce agency that advises the president on telecommunications issues, pulled out of a planned appearance at CES on Jan. 9 to discuss U.S. privacy regulations. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also did not appear for a planned CES keynote on Jan. 8, where he was expected to address the future of 5G.

The NTIA is not listed by the Commerce Department as one of the agencies or services that will be maintained during the shutdown. The agency reportedly has been leading the administration's outreach efforts to technology industry representatives as the administration considers its privacy reform approach.

As the shutdown drags on, President Donald Trump has said he is seriously considering declaring a national emergency to resolve a border security funding dispute driving the shutdown. Given that possibility, FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel said it may be time to review the laws impacting communication in national emergencies and specifically the statute that allows the president to shut down any station for radio communication or device capable of emitting electromagnetic radiations between 10 kilocycles and 100,000 megacycles after such a presidential declaration.

The FCC's next open meeting is slated for Jan. 30. However, it is unclear at this time if the furloughs at the agency will force the agency to postpone or cancel this meeting.