WASHINGTON, November 1, 2017 — After nearly a year in the minority on the Federal Communications Commission, Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn told reporters on Wednesday that she has had enough of a Republican majority that “is not putting consumers first.”
“The first 10 months [under Chairman Ajit Pai] have been a direct attack on consumers and small business,” Clyburn said during a media availability in the Rayburn House Office Building.
Clyburn expressed her opposition to a number of policies enacted since Pai — with whom she has served since 2012 — became chairman upon Donald Trump’s inauguration as president. Pai has reversed rules on business data services, inmate calling rates, broadband privacy rules, and allowing communications resellers to participate in the Universal Service Fund’s Lifeline program.
“These are the types of things I can no longer be silent about,” she said.
Clyburn raises concerns about revocation of Lifeline resellers
Of particular concern to Clyburn — who has long made increasing access to telecommunications services for low-income consumers her personal cause — is a decision by the Republican majority on the commission to revoke permission for nine resellers of wireless telecommunications services to participate in Lifeline.
The decision to revoke that permission, which the majority justified with allegations of fraud by resellers, is the start down a “sad path” for anyone who cares about closing the digital divide, Clyburn lamented.
She added that allowing resellers to take part in lifeline has the effect of letting the government — and not the market — decide what products and services should be offered by companies. Such a policy will stifle the market by dictating companies’ business models, she said.
“Instead of allowing for innovation and investment in a broad array of services…we are short-circuiting opportunities…to chose the affordability gaps for telecommunications and broadband services,” she said.
Clyburn pointed out that supporting such policies, combined with the decision by the Republican majority to roll back open internet rules, shows a lack of sincerity on the part of Pai when it comes to increasing access for low-income Americans, and will make it harder for the FCC to do so by erecting more barriers to entry for the nation’s most vulnerable consumers.
Clyburn accuses Pai of hypocrisy in talking about the digital divide
“What I hear the chairman talk about closing the digital divide, the only word I can think of when it comes to this circulated item is hypocrisy,” she said.
Despite the divisions within the FCC on Lifeline and on open internet rules, Clyburn said she and her colleagues have been responsive “both individually and collectively” when it has come to responding to the devastation wrought in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria.
Clyburn and her colleagues, she said, have been in touch with Puerto Rican officials and with other stakeholders on the ground, and so far she has heard “no major complaints” from either group.
While she admitted that no response to such a tragedy could be perfect, the FCC has been “front and center” during the beginning stages of the rebuilding process.
“We are right there answering the call and will continue to do so,” she said. “We are in it for the long haul.”
FCC Takes Stock of Telehealth Successes, But Acknowledges a Long Way to Go at Agency Event
Procedural hurdles lie ahead for the commission’s telehealth efforts.
WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr and several leaders in healthcare said Monday the agency’s efforts to expand telehealth programs for Americans face procedural hurdles before Congress.
The cost of government telehealth expansion efforts is among key factors that create congressional hesitance to rubber stamp the FCC’s telehealth initiatives.
During panel discussions moderated by Carr at a commission event on Monday, experts also remarked that the commission’s efforts would require a good deal of regulatory flexibility that many members of Congress may not be willing to grant it.
Panel guest Deanna Larson, CEO of virtual health network Avera eCARE, testified before the Senate on the matter in October, urging Congress to extend or make permanent its regulatory flexibility toward telehealth.
The panels also spent time discussing the substantial success the FCC has had in expanding telehealth over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
Experts emphasized accomplishments such as the employment of remote monitoring devices by physicians to physically examine patients when they cannot come into the office.
The panel stated that the move from fully in-person healthcare to telehealth can be compared to the significance of the move from “Blockbuster to Netflix,” referencing the at-home experience of the streaming platform.
Senate Committee OK’s Rosenworcel, Questions Sohn on Mapping, Net Neutrality, Broadband Standards
Gigi Sohn explained her positions on issues facing the FCC.
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.
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.
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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