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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Friday Changes to E-Rate May Be the Most Significant of the Turnabouts

in Broadband News/Universal Service by

Broadband Breakfast Insight: This item from the “Friday news dump” got less attention, but may be the more significant of the measures taken by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. In addition to overturning aspects of the Lifeline changes made by the Obama-era FCC, he and the Republican majority have also “rescinded” an E-Rate report issued by the agency on January 18, 2017. 

The FCC is stopping 9 companies from providing federally subsidized Internet to the poor

Regulators are telling nine companies they won’t be allowed to participate in a federal program meant to help them provide affordable Internet access to low-income consumers — weeks after those companies had been given the green light.

The move, announced Friday by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, reverses a decision by his Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler, and undercuts the companies’ ability to provide low-cost Internet access to poorer Americans. In a statement, Pai called the initial decisions a form of “midnight regulation.”

“These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward,” he said.

[more…]

Source: The FCC is stopping 9 companies from providing federally subsidized Internet to the poor – The Washington Post

3 Comments

  1. A reaction on the modernization report from Amina Fazlullah, Director of Policy at the Benton Foundation:

    The “E-rate Modernization Progress Report” tells a powerful story of how pragmatic FCC policies are playing a vital role in extending gigabit broadband to every school, Wi-Fi to every classroom, and opportunity to every child. It tells of progress being enabled by the E-Rate and commitments of support from a bipartisan group of governors. This impressive broadband progress is something that all of us, as Americans, can be proud of. It’s surprising that a day after taking new transparency steps, the FCC would somehow feel the need to remove this data from the record and hide this broadband progress report from the public. We just aren’t sure what this “sweep under the rug” strategy may be about, or why the FCC is now playing politics with our kids’ digital future.

  2. More reactions from public interest groups, focused on the Lifeline turnabout:

    On February 3, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission informed nine companies that they will be allowed to participate in Lifeline, a federal program that makes broadband internet access service more affordable for low-income consumers. The move came just weeks after the FCC informed these companies that they would be able to participate.

    “Since 2010, the FCC has been consistently working to improve and modernize the Lifeline program. Vulnerable communities, such as our nation’s veterans — who make up 13 percent of Lifeline users — and low-income students — who need broadband to succeed at school — were poised to benefit from the low-cost broadband services the Lifeline program can bring. These unexpected revocations will not only limit choices for Lifeline consumers, but also have a chilling effect on participation of other potential broadband providers of Lifeline service,” said Amina Fazlullah, Director of Policy at the Benton Foundation.

    Danny Weiss, VP for Federal Policy, Common Sense Kids Action: “We are very concerned that this action by the FCC will increase, not reduce, the digital divide that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has pledged to address and that remains a serious problem for low-income school children and their families. We can and must continue to work together toward the goal of connecting every household in America to affordable high-speed internet.”

    “The Communications Workers of America has long supported Lifeline subsidies for broadband. We look to Chairman Pai to ensure that the program enables low-income consumers to purchase broadband services at an affordable price. We are concerned that today’s action may discourage participation in the program,” said Debbie Goldman, Telecommunications Policy Director, Communications Workers of America.

    “Pai’s actions create additional barriers to bringing poor Americans online, demonstrating that he doesn’t actually care about the communications needs of the millions of veterans, working parents and children trapped in poverty, despite his recent statements that everyone should have ‘affordable choices’ and that closing the digital divide would be a ‘core’ FCC priority under his leadership,” said Free Press’ deputy director and senior counsel, Jessica J. González.

    “The new administration has demonstrated extreme hostility towards communities of color, and Chairman Pai’s actions today are no different. Today’s action is an assault on low-income households of color, who disproportionately lack access to affordable high speed broadband that these nine providers would have offered” said Stephanie Chen, Energy and Telecommunications Policy Director at The Greenlining Institute.

    “Poor and working people need more options for internet access at a price they can afford – not less. Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the United States, with some of the most expensive broadband access. Seniors, people with disabilities, and youth all struggle for basic internet access. This action by the FCC will hurt the people who need internet access the most – people struggling for healthcare, good work, dignified schools, and for access to their government – and it will keep companies from doing the work to provide internet access at prices low income communities can afford,” said Hannah Sassaman, Policy Director, Media Mobilizing Project.

    “Lifeline is a proven success story for communities that traditionally are forced to go without in our country, including low-income people, neighborhoods of color, and Americans who live in our nation’s rural and urban areas. To curb Lifeline’s continued attempts to keep up with technology is to perpetuate the digital divide; is tells low-income students that they should still go to the local McDonalds for free wi-fi to do their homework; it says to the unemployed that they should not have access to job listings that are on line; and it will result in seniors who are on a fixed income not having access to local services including emergency services” said Hilary O. Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy.

    “We are concerned that today’s action to revoke nine broadband providers’ ability to provide Lifeline broadband service will have an immediate impact on low-income children who need internet to do their homework, and their parents’ ability to find and apply for work. This action will hurt more than the customers of the nine providers if it deters other broadband providers from participating in the Lifeline program,” said Olivia Wein, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.

    “NDIA’s affiliates (libraries, community-based organizations and local governments) work every day to increase digital equity. Today’s action by the FCC are counter to local efforts as we now have fewer internet service providers offering a Lifeline broadband service. Our disadvantaged communities need MORE low-cost options, not less,” said Angela Siefer, Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

    “Unfortunately, Chairman Pai’s action is a continuation of his previous efforts to vilify a program to help low-income families gain affordable access to broadband and telephone service. In his first speech to the FCC staff as chairman, Pai promised he would close the digital divide by helping the ‘private sector build networks, send signals, and distribute information to American consumers, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else.’ Not only has he already broken his first promise, but his unilateral action over the request of Commissioner Clyburn means he has also violated his own regulatory philosophy, that “FCC is at its best when it proceeds on the basis of consensus,” said Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, UCC OC Inc.

  3. And this additional comment from the Consortium for School Networking. {Note that Ajit Pai is the Chairman of the FCC, not the Acting Chairman}:

    Acting FCC Chairman Ajit Pai correctly identified America’s digital divide as one of the “most significant” issues we face.

    Despite this important acknowledgement, the FCC made the puzzling, detrimental action, under Chairman Pai’s leadership, to cut off the Lifeline program’s support for expanding broadband access to low-income American households.

    On behalf of the more than 800 school districts and the 13 million students served by CoSN, we are deeply concerned with this action and its impact on low-income students. Without this access, many students across America will fall behind their peers and not be able to take full advantage of the learning opportunities that are critical to 21st century success. All students in America, regardless of their economic status, deserve more – not less – access to digital learning.

    CoSN stands firm in our steadfast commitment to better connect all learners at home and in school. Our nation’s leaders need to take steps to close, not increase, the digital divide in communities nationwide.

    We also urge the FCC to reverse its decision to rescind the recent “E-rate Modernization Progress Report.” Promoting public transparency about the program’s impact is critical to its long-term success.

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