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Ajit Pai Responds on Net Neutrality, West Virginians for Broadband Utility, New Economist at FCC

Jericho Casper

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YouTube screenshot of Paula Swearengin from The New Republic

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a proposal to address the three issues raised by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in an October 2019 decision on the agency’s net neutrality repeal.

In December 2017, the FCC repealed regulations that had classified broadband internet access service as a form of “telecommunications service” subject to some common carrier obligations.

In returning broadband to the regulatory classification of an “information service,” the Republican-led agency took potentially onerous regulations away from broadband companies, explains Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, who is Of Counsel at The CommLaw Group.

See “D.C. Circuit’s Decision in Net Neutrality Case Likely to Open New Fronts of Attack Against FCC,” Broadband Breakfast, October 7, 2019

The appeals court largely upheld the FCC’s December 2017 net neutrality repeal. Still, it directed the agency to reconsider the order’s impact on public safety, attachments to utility poles and the agency’s ability to provide subsidies for broadband service through the Lifeline program.

Pai’s order is not proposing any policy changes to address the issues raised by the appeals court, according to Reuters.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., blasted Pai, saying that “the FCC was wrong when it repealed the net neutrality rules, and it’s wrong again today.”

“By failing to course-correct what the D.C. Circuit Court accurately described as an action ‘unhinged from the realities of modern broadband service,’ the Commission is continuing to take us down a path towards a less free and open internet,” said Markey.

West Virginia candidates want broadband classified as a utility

Candidates affiliated with the West Virginia Can’t Wait political movement, who are running for everything from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to the Fairmont City Council, are calling for broadband internet to be classified as a public utility, in their “Broadband for All” proposal, reported Scott Gillespie for Government Tech.

Key elements of the plan include having broadband internet access governed by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia and creating a state Office of Technology to coordinate the expansion of broadband.

Candidates are aiming to fund a public broadband “middle mile,” which they believe would limit monopolistic power of service providers. They trust the new classification will increase competition and access, while working with counties and municipalities to secure federal funding.

Paula Swearengin, who is running against sitting Senator Shelley Moore Capito in the general election, said West Virginians are poorly served by large out-of-state internet providers and that it is time local public providers are empowered.

“Unlike my opponent, I do not favor price-gouging internet service provider monopolies like Comcast, Verizon, Suddenlink and AT&T. I support broadband as a public utility for all Americans by eliminating barriers to municipal and community-owned broadband networks and building a nationwide public digital infrastructure,” Swearengin said, “such an approach would be good for state businesses and workers and diversify West Virginia’s economy.”

Glenn Woroch named as the FCC’s new chief economist

Glenn Woroch was appointed as the FCC’s new new chief economist on Friday. Woroch is based in the Office of Economics and Analytics and he began working at the Commission only on September 25, 2020.

Woroch is professor at University of California-Berkeley, where he spent nearly three decades serving as executive director of the Center for Research on Telecommunications Policy at the Haas Business School.

In addition to his leadership role in advancing telecommunications research at University of California-Berkeley, Woroch has served on the editorial boards of publications that are highly relevant to the Commission’s work, such as Information Economics & Policy, Journal of Regulatory Economics, and Telecommunications Policy. He also has served as a peer reviewer for over a dozen other journals.

“Glenn is an extremely talented and respected economist, and his expertise in regulatory economics and telecommunications policy will be of great value to the entire Commission,” said Pai. “I look forward to learning from his insights into various aspects of the Commission’s critical work.”

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