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Fault Lines Between FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel on Stark Display in House

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Photo of Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel’s uneasy convoy to the Capitol by David Jelke

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2020 – “That is flatly incorrect,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said, partly to Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and partly to Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

Quigley had just asked the two commissioners, who travelled to Hill on Wednesday to request funds for the FCC’s 2021 fiscal year, for the agency’s “best guess how long would it take to fix the maps.”

Rosenworcel, a vocal critic of her own agency’s lambasted broadband maps, said “we can have really significant improvements within 3 to 6 months.” Pai cut off his colleague to correct the record: “That is flatly incorrect.”

“I appreciate what you’re saying, I’m just asking— what’s your best guess?” Quigley asked again.

“It’s certainly not three to six months. It’s much longer than that,” Pai responded.

More fault lines emerged when the hearing turned to the issue of net neutrality. Pai was the leading force behind the FCC’s decision to reverse net neutrality regulations in December 2017, at the behest of communications companies and against the wishes of many public interest groups.

Rosenworcel blasted the FCC for allegedly doing “everything in its power to make sure no one noticed” that it sought public comment on its 2017 net neutrality proposal.

Rosenworcel also mentioned how the phrase “net neutrality” did not once appear in the FCC’s official request for comment. “This process should concern you,” Rosenworcel said.

Rosenworcel and Pai’s divergent attitudes toward robocalls further electrified the tiny hearing room in the Capitol.

Rosenworcel harshly criticized her own agency’s resources to combat robocalls, repeating three times throughout the hearing that it takes the FCC on average 649 days to complete one enforcement action on robocalls

This is partly due there only being 12 FCC staff assigned to robocalls, Rosenworcel said. “It’s like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.”

Meanwhile, Pai assuaged the congressmen that enough resources are currently allocated to dealing with robocalls.

“You think 12 staffers is enough?” asked Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., incredulously.

“Those things take time to investigate,” responded Pai, adding that FCC employees have done “a terrific job” on prosecuting robocalls.

 

David Jelke was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. He graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in neuroscience. Growing up in Miami, he learned to speak Spanish during a study abroad semester in Peru. He is now teaching himself French on his iPhone.

FCC

FCC Announces New RDOF Accountability and Transparency Measures, Additional Funding

Results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will be made public.

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Photo of reels of cabling in Hinsdale, Mont., in August 2016 by Tony Webster used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Friday said that it will implement new accountability and transparency measures, and make public the results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The measures are part of a new known as the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund that monitors several universal service high-cost programs.

Additionally announced in a press release, the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund will speed up the FCC’s audit and verification processes.

Audits and verifications are projected to double in 2022 as compared to 2021 and include on-site audits, and a particular focus will be placed on auditing and verifying the largest-dollar and highest-risk RDOF recipients.

The agency also announced that it would commit more than $1.2 billion more to RDOF, the largest funding round for the program to date.

The new funding will bring broadband service to more than 1 million locations through deployments in 32 states, with 23 broadband providers assisting the effort.

Going forward, the commission will deny waivers, it said, “for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.”

All winning bidders will undergo “an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review.”

Finally, the commission says a list of areas will be published which details where providers have defaulted, “making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.”

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Broadband Data

Federal Communications Commission Approves New Provider Transparency Requirements

Broadband providers must now create “broadband nutrition labels” which list pricing and speed information.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel from January 2015 by the Internet Education Foundation used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to require that broadband providers create “broadband nutrition labels” that list information on the pricing and speed of internet service they provide.

The labels mimic food nutrition labels in format and aim to increase transparency of providers in their marketing to consumers.

With their approval at the commission’s monthly open meeting Thursday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the new rules are crucial to consumers being able to find the best deals on broadband service for their personal needs.

Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel praised the label format, saying that it allows consumers to “easily compare” information and that it is “black and white, simple to read, and easy to understand.”

The long-simmering idea was enacted by Congress in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by the president on November 15. It directed the FCC to revive the project by one year from the law’s passage.

On Thursday, Joshua Stager, New America’s deputy director for broadband and competition policy at its Open Technology Institute, called the vote “a welcome step forward and a win for consumers.” The think tank began promoting the idea last decade, and it had been endorsed by the Obama administration before being canned by the Trump administration.

Industry group Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said the transparency afforded by the new policy “provides consumers with important tools to make informed choices.”

Additionally in Thursday’s meeting, when the agency tentatively revoked telecom operator China Unicom Americas’ operating authority in the United States, the agency said they had reached out to the Department of Justice for assistance in responding to what they say are potential threats from the China-based company. This inter-agency review is routinely part of determinations involving foreign-owned telecommunications companies.

The agency also updated its definition of “library” to make clear that Tribal libraries are eligible to receive funds under the Universal Service Fund’s E-rate program.

Starks emphasized that the commission’s action represented progress on digital inclusion efforts, but that unfamiliarity of Tribal libraries with the E-rate program remains a problem.

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FCC

Federal Communications Commission Implements Rules for Affordable Connectivity Program

The agency implemented new rules on the Affordable Connectivity Program, which makes a new subsidy permanent.

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel by Rob Kunzig of Morning Consult

WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules Friday for its Affordable Connectivity Program that changes and, in some cases narrows, the eligibility requirements for the subsidy to allow for more households to be connected.

An extension of the former Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which offered discounts to broadband service providers to subsidize connectivity and devices, the new program will make it easier for providers to get in the program by automatically making eligible providers in good standing.

Additionally, the FCC maintains that the monthly discount on broadband service is limited to one internet discount per household rather than allowing the benefit for separate members of a household. “Adopting a one-per-household limitation best ensures that Program funding is available to the largest possible number of eligible households,” the agency said in its report.

To accommodate the volume of eligible households enrolling in the ACP, the FCC allowed providers until March 22 – 60 days after its Friday order is published in the Federal Register– to make necessary changes to ensure that the ACP can be applied to providers’ currently sold plans.

“So much of our day to day—work, education, healthcare and more—has migrated online. As a result, it’s more apparent than ever before that broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have, for everyone, everywhere,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “But there are far too many households across the country that are wrestling with how to pay for gas and groceries and also keep up with the broadband bill. This program, like its predecessor, can make a meaningful difference.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act transformed the EBB to the longer-term Affordable Connectivity Program by allocating an additional $14.2 billion to it.

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