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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to Step Down on Inauguration Day, Saying ‘It’s Time for a New Adventure’

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Screenshot of Ajit Pai at the Columbia University Federalist Society event

November 30, 2020 — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday announced today that he would step down from his current role when President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20, 2021.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve at the Federal Communications Commission,” said Pai of his eight years working at the United States’ telecommunications regulatory agency, in a statement issued Monday morning.

See what industry groups have to say about “Broadband in a Biden Administration” on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, during Broadband Breakfast Live Online

Pai was appointed to the FCC as a commissioner in 2012 by President Barack Obama and was promoted to chairman in 2017 by President Donald Trump.

The soon-to-be former chairman made an appearance in a webinar hosted by Columbia Law School’s Federalist Society on Monday, during which he expanded on his written notice and his time spent at the FCC.

Pai noted the tumultuous political environment he was thrust into, detailing what it was like to serve under two very different presidential administrations.

“With the exception of a few high profile matters, the FCC has been immune from the political partisanship” that effects other spheres of government, said Pai, who stood by his 2017 decision to repeal net neutrality, claiming that a market-based framework serves consumers best.

According to Pai, the day-to-day tasks of the agency have remained largely the same through fluctuations in government.“ The bread-and-butter work that we do has generally not been something that is politically affiliated,” said Pai, adding that the progress the agency has made on bipartisan matters is what he is happiest to consider a part of his legacy.

Pai touts his work on the digital divide

Pai said he was most proud of the agency’s efforts to close the digital divide, expressing it was the number one way he felt he impacted society. He recalled connecting tribal lands in the middle of a low-income region of Wyoming to high-speed gigabit broadband service.

Pai noted that under his leadership the United States set consecutive records for new fiber deployment in 2018 and 2019, with the number of homes passed by fiber increasing by 5.9 million, and then by 6.5 million the following year.

Spectrum auction accelerated

He further recalled that the agency has held five successful spectrum auctions in the past four years, after only holding one in the four years Pai served as a commissioner under the Obama administration.

Pai recognized that the work he and his fellow commissioners did to designate ’988’ as the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. He also touted his efforts to ensure that rates for interstate and international phone calls are reasonable for incarcerated individuals, will be some of his most impactful.

Pai recognized a change in the communications landscape over the course of his career at the FCC, adding that he believes communications regulation must change to meet the moment.

Social media enters the FCC maelstrom

As the first member of the FCC on Twitter in 2012, Pai watched social media sites develop into what they have become today, recalling that in 2012, “no one could criticize social media corporations.”

Yet today there is bipartisan recognition that change is needed. Pai said “it will be interesting to see what Congress will do to regulate big tech.”

Pai detailed the personal thought process behind his October statement on Section 230, which claimed that the FCC does have the legal authority to interpret the terms of Section 230, saying that “there is currently no transparency about how social media companies are making decisions when it comes to content regulation.”

Pai said “the rule making would have allowed the FCC to question broader things, like what it means for social media sites to regulate sites in terms of ‘good faith.’”

Pai offered advice to his successor, whomever it might be, urging that the future FCC chair make efforts to spend time with the FCC’s staff.

“I’m proud to say I’ve done that, and it enabled us to work better as a unit,” said Pai, who referred to the FCC’s staff as the agency’s best asset.

As for what lies ahead, Pai said he is still considering his options and “taking time to think about it.”

“It’s been a great run but it’s time for a new adventure,” said Pai, who joked about potentially replacing Judge Judy or becoming a slot receiver for Kansas City Chiefs.

Plaudits received from industry groups

“Throughout his tenure, and never more so than during these challenging days of the pandemic, Chairman Pai has prioritized bridging the digital divide and connecting all Americans everywhere to 21st century communications networks,” said Jonathan Spalter, US Telecom CEO. “Our nation’s broadband providers who invest in innovation, dig the trenches, pull the fiber, and climb the poles share that commitment.”

“We commend Chairman Pai for his exceptional stewardship of the Federal Communications Commission,” said NCTA CEO Michael Powell, himself a former FCC chairman. “He set a clear vision for his tenure and the industry and pursued it with purpose, transparency, scholarly rigor and courage.

“During his time as chairman he frequently faced overheated criticism and personal attacks that have become sadly common in the sphere of policymaking,” said Powell of NCTA, which also goes by the name of Internet and Television Association. “During his tenure, Chairman Pai pushed for policies that spurred investment and innovation in our nation’s communications networks while also expanding the benefits of broadband to all Americans.”

“Chairman Pai has been a huge champion of the fixed wireless industry, with his FCC’s tireless efforts to identify, free-up and share spectrum that would otherwise have gone fallow,” said Claude Aiken, CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association. “He helped keep regulation low, and worked to remove other related burdens, which was especially helpful for our small WISP members.  And his dedication to reducing the digital divide, in particular in rural America, is without parallel.” 

See what industry groups have to say about “Broadband in a Biden Administration” on Wednesday, December 2, 2020, during Broadband Breakfast Live Online

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

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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FCC

FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Shares Proposal to Promote Broadband Competition In Apartment Buildings

If adopted, the FCC’s regulations would increase broadband options for tenants.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, January 21, 2022––Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared a draft regulation that aims to would promote competition and greater broadband choice for tenants in apartment buildings.

If adopted, the regulations would prevent practices that keep tenants from choosing their own broadband provider.

“With more than one-third of the U.S. population living in apartments, mobile home parks, condominiums, and public housing, it’s time to crack down on practices that lock out broadband competition and consumer choice,” said Rosenworcel.

The proposal would prohibit broadband providers from entering into revenue-sharing agreements with apartment building owners. If approved by her fellow commissioners and hence adopted as official agency rules, the regulation would also require providers to disclose any existing marketing arrangements they have with building owners to tenants.

“Consumers deserve access to a choice of providers in their buildings. I look forward to having my colleagues join me in lifting the obstacles to competitive choice for broadband for the millions of tenants across the nation,” Rosenworcel said.

Her proposal builds on a September 2021 notice that invited a new round of comments during an examination of broadband access In apartment and office buildings. The FCC said the proceedings revealed “a pattern of new practices that inhibit competition, contrary to the Commission’s goals, and limit opportunities for competitive providers to offer service for apartment, condo and office building unit tenants.”

More than one third of the U.S. population lives in condominiums or apartment buildings.

Exclusive agreements between broadband providers and buildings owners limit options for tenants, who are precluded from access to new carriers. “Across the country throughout the pandemic, the need for more and better broadband access has never been clearer,” Rosenworcel added.

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FCC

FCC Announces Largest Approval Yet for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: $1 Billion

The agency said Thursday it has approved $1 billion to 69 providers in 32 states.

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Photo illustration from the Pelican Institute

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced its largest approval yet from the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, greenlighting on Thursday $1 billion from a reverse auction process that ended with award announcements in December but that the new-look agency has been scrutinizing in recent months.

The agency said in a press release that this fifth round of approvals includes 69 providers who are expected to serve 518,000 locations in 32 states over 10 years. Its previous round approved $700 million worth of applications to cover 26 states. Previous rounds approved $554 million for broadband in 19 states, $311 million in 36 states, and $163 million in 21 states.

The agency still has some way to approve the entirety of the fund, as it’s asked providers that were previously awarded RDOF money in December to revisit their applications to see if the areas they have bid for are not already served. So far, a growing list have defaulted on their respective areas, some saying it was newer FCC maps that showed them what they didn’t previously know. The agency said Thursday that about 5,000 census blocks have been cleared as a result of that process.

The FCC also said Thursday it saved $350 million from winning bidders that have either failed to get state certification or didn’t follow through on their applications. In one winning bidder’s case, the FCC said Thursday Hotwire violated the application rules by changing its ownership structure.

“This latest round of funding will open up even more opportunities to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to high-speed, reliable broadband service,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “Today’s actions reflect the hard work we’ve put in over the past year to ensure that applicants meet their obligations and follow our rules.  With thoughtful oversight, this program can direct funding to areas that need broadband and to providers who are qualified to do the job.”

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