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Newly-Designated FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Names Senior Staff Officials at Agency

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WASHINGTON, January 24, 2017 — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday announced a series of staff appointments, one day after his selection as chairman was confirmed by President Donald Trump. Among the appointments include Brendan Carr as acting general counsel, Matthew Berry as chief of staff, and Nicholas Degani as senior counsel.

About the appointment of Carr, Pai said, “I am very pleased that Brendan has agreed to return to the Office of General Counsel to lead it. He is a lawyer’s lawyer, and I look forward to working with him and his team to ensure that as the agency seeks to deliver digital opportunity to every American, it does so consistent with the expressed will of Congress.”

About the other appointments, Pai said, “I am honored that this talented team has agreed to help lead the Commission. I look forward to working with them and the other skilled professionals at the agency to deliver digital opportunity to every American.”

Below are brief summaries provided by the FCC:

Brendan Carr, Acting General Counsel. For the past three years, Mr. Carr has served as Commissioner Pai’s Wireless, Public Safety, and International Legal Advisor. He joined the office from the FCC’s Office of General Counsel. In that role, he provided legal advice on a wide range of spectrum policy, competition, and public safety matters. Prior to joining the Commission, Mr. Carr was an attorney at Wiley Rein LLP, where he worked in the firm’s appellate, litigation, and telecom practices. He represented clients in both trial and appellate court proceedings, including complex litigation involving the First Amendment and the Communications Act. Earlier in his career, he served as a law clerk for Judge Dennis W. Shedd of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Mr. Carr graduated magna cum laude from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law and obtained a certificate from its Institute for Communications Law Studies. Mr. Carr received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University.

Matthew Berry, Chief of Staff. For the past four years, Mr. Berry has served as Commissioner Pai’s Chief of Staff. He previously served as the Commission’s General Counsel and Deputy General Counsel. Prior to joining Commissioner Pai’s office, he was a Partner at Patton Boggs LLP. Mr. Berry has also worked at the United States Department of Justice, serving as Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy and an Attorney-Adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel. Earlier in his career, Mr. Berry clerked for United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and Judge Laurence Silberman of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Additionally, he worked as a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice. Mr. Berry received his J.D. from Yale Law School and graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College.

Nicholas Degani, Senior Counsel. For the past four years, Mr. Degani has served as Commissioner Pai’s Wireline Legal Advisor. He joined the office from a detail to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, where he served as counsel under Chairman Fred Upton and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden. Before his detail, Mr. Degani served as an Attorney Advisor in the Wireline Competition Bureau’s Telecommunications Access Policy Division and Competition Policy Division, as well as the Commission’s Office of General Counsel. Mr. Degani entered the Commission through the Attorney Honors Program. Earlier in his career, Mr. Degani clerked for Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and magna cum laude from Yale University, where he studied Electrical Engineering/Computer Science and History.

Jay Schwarz, Acting Wireline Advisor. Dr. Schwarz is an economist who will advise Chairman Pai on wireline issues. Dr. Schwarz joins the office from the Office of Strategic Planning, where he served as Acting Deputy Chief. Previously, he held positions as Deputy Chief in the Wireline Competition Bureau’s Telecommunications Access Policy Division and as Supervisory Economist in the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s Competition and Infrastructure Policy Division. Prior to these roles, he worked as an economist in the Wireline Competition Bureau. In his time at the Commission, he has worked on a variety of topics, including universal service, broadband adoption, the IP transition, and spectrum policy. He has co-authored peer reviewed telecommunications research and received the FCC’s 2014 Excellence in Economics award. He serves on the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (TPRC) Program Committee and has taught graduate courses in Cost Benefit Analysis and Microeconomics at the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Schwarz holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Pittsburgh and a B.S. and M.Eng. in Civil Engineering from Texas A&M University.

Alison Nemeth, Acting Media Advisor. Ms. Nemeth will advise Chairman Pai on media issues. Ms. Nemeth joins the office from the Media Bureau, where she most recently served as a Legal Advisor. She came to the Commission through the Attorney Honors Program, and she has worked on a variety of legal and policy issues in both the Media and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus relating to broadcast television licensing, transactions, the broadcast incentive auction, privacy, and device security. Previously, Ms. Nemeth worked as an interim legal advisor for media issues in then-Commissioner Pai’s Office. Ms. Nemeth received her J.D. from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law and obtained a certificate from its Institute for Communications Law Studies. Ms. Nemeth received her undergraduate degree from Lafayette College.

Rachael Bender, Acting Wireless Advisor. Ms. Bender will advise Chairman Pai on wireless and international issues. Ms. Bender joins the office from the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, where she worked on competition issues and efforts to streamline infrastructure deployment. Before coming to the Commission, Ms. Bender served for over five years at the wireless trade association Mobile Future—most prominently as Senior Policy Director—where her work focused on a broad range of spectrum policy matters. Ms. Bender graduated from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law with a certificate from its Institute for Communications Law Studies and from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she earned her B.A. in Government and Politics.

Zenji Nakazawa, Acting Public Safety and Consumer Protection Advisor. Mr. Nakazawa will advise Chairman Pai on public safety and consumer protection issues. Mr. Nakazawa joins the office from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, where he served as chief of the Policy and Rules Division. In that capacity, he oversaw several key portfolios, including Next Generation 911, emergency alerting, spectrum licensing, as well as various issues concerning law enforcement and national security. Prior to that, he served as deputy chief in the division. He is a former Mansfield Fellow and has worked and lived in Japan on several occasions. Mr. Nakazawa graduated from the University of Richmond, T.C. Williams School of Law, and received his undergraduate degree from Bucknell University.

Lori Alexiou, Confidential Assistant. For the past four years, Ms. Alexiou has been Commissioner Pai’s confidential assistant. She joined the office from the Commission’s Office of General Counsel, where she was a Litigation Specialist. Before that, she served as Confidential Assistant to Commissioner Meredith A. Baker and Chairman Kevin J. Martin. Prior to joining the Commission, Ms. Alexiou worked at the law firms of Wiley Rein LLP and Fisher, Wayland, Cooper and Leader. She started her career working for a physician’s practice in Pennsylvania.

Kim Mattos, Acting Executive Assistant. Ms. Mattos will assist Mr. Berry and Mr. Degani. Ms. Mattos is currently a Management Analyst in the Enforcement Bureau. She was detailed to serve as Executive Assistant to the former Chief of Staff and was detailed to the acting Chairwoman’s Office in 2013 as Staff Assistant. Ms. Mattos has been with the FCC since 2003, having started in the General Counsel’s office as Executive Assistant to the General Counsel, and Legal Administrative Specialist, where she administered the FCC’s Attorney Honors Program.

Deanne Erwin, Executive Assistant. Ms. Erwin will assist Dr. Schwarz, Ms. Nemeth, Ms. Bender, and Mr. Nakazawa. For the past four years, she has served as the staff assistant to the office of Commissioner Pai. Previously, she was the assistant for William Lake, Chief of the Media Bureau. Ms. Erwin began her career at the Commission in 2000.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

FCC

Senate Committee OK’s Rosenworcel, Questions Sohn on Mapping, Net Neutrality, Broadband Standards

Gigi Sohn explained her positions on issues facing the FCC.

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Gigi Sohn at Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee meeting

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – As the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmed Jessica Rosenworcel as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, it also questioned Wednesday agency nominee Gigi Sohn on issues including net neutrality, broadband mapping, and speeds.

Rosenworcel is already chairwoman of the FCC by virtue of being named to the position by President Joe Biden. The president picks the chair of the agency from among the commissioners. However, Rosenworcel’s term as commissioner is to expire unless the Senate confirms her appointment to another term.

The committee on Wednesday also approved Alvaro Bedoya, a staunch privacy advocate, as commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission and had rounds at questioning Alan Davidson, who was nominated as head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will oversee $42.5 billion in broadband funds from the recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

On mapping, Sohn called for a “crowdsourcing” effort amongst states to improve the quality of broadband mapping, as the agency has started to do. “A lot of states have maps already and they are quite accurate,” she said. Though she could not commit to a timeline, Sohn said that there could be no “good policy without good maps” and that if she were confirmed, she would dedicate herself to improve the FCC’s broadband maps.

Sohn also voiced her support for municipal broadband. “I have supported municipal broadband for a very long time,” she said, adding she supports open access models that allow service providers to share the same network. Sohn pointed to Utah as an example, where the model has been implemented successfully. She stated that the model has led to “enormous competition” for service providers.

When pressed as to whether the FCC should be able to preempt states and dictate how they implement their broadband policy, Sohn said she would like the FCC to have a better relationship with states. “If I am confirmed, one of the things I would ask the chairwoman [to use me as] a liaison to the states, because I’ve really formed very good relationships with them,” she said. “In the past, we have not [reached out] to the states and made them partners. We have been more adversarial.”

Net neutrality, broadband standards and Big Tech

Sohn also came out in support of net neutrality. “What I am concerned about now, with the repeal in 2017 of the net neutrality rules and the reclassification of broadband, is that we have no touch,” she said. “[Net neutrality] is really much broader than [preventing] blocking and throttling. It is about whether or not bandwidth – which we all agree is an essential service – should have government oversight, and right now, it does not.”

Legislators also questioned Sohn on her perspectives regarding broadband standards. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked Sohn what standard – whether it was 100 Mbps download with 20 Mbps upload, or 100 Mbps symmetrical service – would bridge the digital divide. Sohn stated that it would take more than just the deployment of infrastructure to bridge the digital divide.

“I have urged that Congress adopt a permanent broadband subsidy like the Affordable Connectivity Program – which is more money but is not permanent,” Sohn said. “You still always have the adoption problem as well, where people do not have the digital literacy, sometimes not even [actual] literacy, to be able to use the internet.”

Insofar that capacity and internet speeds are concerned, Sohn emphasized that the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act “does prefer scalable networks to meet the needs of tomorrow.”

“What we do not want, I would think – or I would not want – is to come back in five or ten years and say, ‘Oh, my goodness! We spent all this money, and we still have slow networks, and we still have areas that are not served,” she said. “The ability to have technologies that can grow over time.” Sohn stopped short of explicitly listing specific scalable technologies.

On Big Tech, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, described “a confluence of liberals advocating for censoring anyone with whom they disagree,” and a situation where “big tech [is] eagerly taking up the mantle to censor those with whom they disagree.” Cruz asked Sohn how she could guarantee she would not “use the power of government to silence.”

Sohn said that she would “make that commitment” to not act in such a way and added that she would “take any allegations of bias extremely seriously.” She said that she will continue to work with the Office of Government Ethics to dissuade any concerns people may have about her biases.

A date for a vote on Sohn and Davidson’s nominations has not yet been scheduled.

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FCC Eliminates Emergency Broadband Benefit Enrollment Freeze

The commission says an enrollment freeze is no longer necessary as the Infrastructure Act’s Affordable Connectivity Program takes effect.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 29, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it is axing rules requiring a freeze on enrollment at the initial end of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

That’s because the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law two weeks ago, extends the program indefinitely and rebrands it to the Affordable Connectivity Program. The FCC is currently gathering comments on how it should manage the transition to the new program.

The freeze was initially planned to avoid claims volatility and to allow for more certain financial projections in the EBB’s final months when funds were running low. Based on current budget projections, there is no longer concern that the EBB will run out of funding before the Affordable Connectivity Program takes effect, the FCC said.

In its announcement on Friday, the FCC also waived requirements for customer notice on the end of the EBB, which mandated 15- and 30-day consumer notices.

These mandates were eliminated to prevent any alarm or confusion over the EBB Program ending, as consumers will continue to receive service for 60 days following the program’s end due to provisions of the IIJA.

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FCC Watchdog Finds Evidence of Fraud in Emergency Broadband Benefit

Inspector General report finds “dozens” of cases of EBB abuse across the country.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 24, 2021 – The watchdog that monitors fraud and abuse of Federal Communications Commission programs said it has found evidence that service providers are enrolling into the Emergency Broadband Benefit program more students than exist at some schools.

The Office of Inspector General said in a Monday report that service providers, who are reimbursed from the program for offering subsidized broadband services to schools, and their sales agents have been abusing the program by enrolling more “households that claimed they have a dependent child” than students “who are actually enrolled in those schools.”

The report found “dozens” of eligible schools across the country are overenrolled six months into the program. That includes schools in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, New York and Florida.

The most “egregious examples” of such abuse, the OIG said, came out of Florida, with one example of a school that had enrolled 1884 households in the EBB program, when OIG research showed that “no more than 200 students attend” the school. Another school with 152 students had 1048 households enrolled in the program. The OIG said it will not disclose which schools to preserve its on-going investigation.

The report notes that additional households were blocked from enrolling in the program “by other program safeguards.”

Majority of abuse done by “handful” of providers

“Evidence shows this is not consumer-driven fraud – enrollment data directly links certain providers and their sales agents to these enrollments,” the report said, adding the same sales agents who overenrolled students in the aforementioned schools also did the same in other state schools.

“Sales agents who work for just a handful of EBB providers are responsible for the majority of this fraudulent enrollment activity,” it added.

Other examples of abuse, the report said, includes failure to identify the dependent child, the repeated use of the provider retail address as the address of homes served, and more than 2000 EBB households were noted as being more than 50 miles from their schools.

“As EBB providers incentivize sales agents to maximize enrollments by providing commission-based compensation, many of the abuses that once plagued the FCC’s Lifeline program have reappeared in the EBB program,” the report concluded, adding these providers will be liable for violations.

“If providers discover enrollment problems, OIG reminds them of their obligation to take appropriate remedial measures,” the report added. “Providers who defraud FCC programs by violating program enrollment rules and claim support for those households will be held accountable and may be subject to civil or criminal sanctions.”

The $3.2-billion EBB program, which launched in May, provides a subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. The program has enrolled over five million households so far.

The FCC is currently asking the public for comment on how it should handle the program’s expansion into a permanent fixture as a result of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden last week.

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