The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is reopening its hardware certification program amid the partial government shutdown, averting a potential delay in releasing new phones and other electronics. The FCC said today that it was reactivating the Equipment Authorization System, reversing a decision announced on January 2nd. Several other FCC services will remain unavailable, and the FCC isn’t offering support staff for the system until after the shutdown ends.
Many electronics must receive FCC certification before going to market, and a prolonged closure could theoretically push back their release. Last week, the Telecommunications Industry Association warned that phone carriers might have to slow the rollout of new 5G phones if the shutdown continued. The concern was particularly pressing because companies often announce new products around the Mobile World Congress convention, which takes place next month in Barcelona, Spain.
The actual stakes of closing the system weren’t clear-cut. “I’ve seen multiple industry groups complain that the government shutdown is going to slow down X, Y, or Z,” said Jim Dunstan, general counsel at technology policy association TechFreedom, in response to questions from The Verge earlier this week. “I view this as ‘hedging bets’ on the delivery of new products or services. If something gets delayed down the road, you can now blame it on the government shutdown.” T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, and Samsung — some of the biggest companies likely to be affected by a delay — didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Verge. And even the worst-case scenario paled against some other consequences of the government shutdown.
The authorization system is being reactivated today, so private Telecommunications Certification Bodies can use it to issue certifications for equipment they’ve tested. These bodies still won’t be able to certify products whose tests are “complex or break new ground,” since those require a consultation with FCC staff. But the TIA applauded the move. “Most device approvals will be covered by today’s action,” it said in a statement. “TIA is very grateful to the Commission’s leadership for recognizing the importance of this issue and taking swift action to address it.”