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FCC Commissioner Legally Tasked With Bringing Broadband To All Americans Doesn't Think Broadband's All That Important

from the you're-really-not-helping dept

Nobody could ever accuse FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly of being a consumer advocate. As one of five agency commissioners, O’Rielly (alongside former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai) has voted down every single meaningful FCC effort to aid consumers and improve broadband market competition. Whether it’s trying to protect net neutrality, or the FCC’s attempt to stop ISPs from writing obnoxious protectionist state law, O’Rielly’s sole function appears to be to oppose pretty much everything that could possibly help the American public, under the ingenious pretense of helping the American public.

More recently, the FCC has been considering revamping the $1.7 billion Lifeline program, which was created by the Reagan administration in 1985 and expanded by Bush in 2005 to help bring phone services to low-income Americans. Despite being a Republican proposal, it’s frequently mocked (even by reporters) as being part of the “Obamaphone” program thanks to the nation’s ongoing case of partisan nitwit disease. The FCC’s initiative involves letting the program’s 1.2 million participants use some of the whopping $9.25 monthly discount (per household) they receive each month on broadband instead of just voice. Really, it’s not all that controversial, especially in the context of bigger budget government issues.

Yet while the contextually-more immense subject of military and intelligence funding is apparently immune to this type of criticism, the very notion of using taxpayer funds to aid the less fortunate fostered the usual amount of hand-wringing and assorted hysteria. Not all of it was without justification given the FCC’s utterly shitty history of policing USF fraud. But after a fifteen year nap, more consumer-minded FCC boss Tom Wheeler has been cracking down on fraud, even if some of the fines being levied are relatively pathetic. Still, a big part of this new proposal involves cracking down on fraud further.

But even if you oppose subsidies to the poor (which I don’t agree with but can understand), one still needs to answer the question of how we improve broadband competition, penetration, and deployment to the estimated 55 million Americans without broadband and the countless others stuck in uncompetitive markets. To illustrate the importance of this conversation, Wheeler several times has tried to argue that we’re reaching the point where broadband needs to be thought of as a basic human right. This isn’t that new or controversial either, really. Finland declared broadband a human right five years ago (and you’ll note they lead many broadband performance metrics). The UN declared broadband a human right in 2011.

O’Rielly apparently takes deep offense at the use of such terminology:

“It is important to note that Internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn?t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right,” he said. “People can and do live without Internet access, and many lead very successful lives.”

And while that’s not necessarily wrong (broadband provides no phytonutrients or Omega-3 fatty acids, after all), broadband is increasingly a vital tool to connect people to health care, employment data, government services and everything else under the sun, making it pretty god-damned important. Whether broadband should be thought of as a necessity, utility and luxury has always caused endless, idiotic hyperbolic debate in the telecom sector. Why? Because if you consider broadband essential, you then have to then reconcile the fact that we’ve done a horrible job at trying to expand and improve it, whether that’s through incentives, public/private partnership or policies that encourage competition (all of which O’Rielly opposes).

So, as somebody that just wants the miraculous U.S. broadband free market to remain as is (expensive, slow, generally kind of shitty) to help shore up some inflexible and unrealistic political beliefs, O’Rielly’s quick to declare the idea of broadband as a human right “demeaning”:

“It is even more ludicrous to compare Internet access to a basic human right,” said O’Rielly. “In fact, it is quite demeaning to do so in my opinion. Human rights are standards of behavior that are inherent in every human being. They are the core principles underpinning human interaction in society. These include liberty, due process or justice, and freedom of religious beliefs. I find little sympathy with efforts to try to equate Internet access with these higher, fundamental concepts.”

And that’s great and all, but O’Rielly’s not sitting on the Supreme Court or teaching a Constitutional ethics class. He’s employed by an agency that has, as one of its Congressionally-mandated goals, the responsibility to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans.” That’s something we’ve failed at by any measure (unless you’re blinded by politics, employed by an ISP or paid by an ISP to look the other way). And again, if you’re going to oppose subsidy programs like Lifeline, you at least need to support or recommend policies that can help drive more competition and services to areas with a low rate of return on the ISPs’ investment.

Except O’Rielly’s done none of that. What he’s done is sit on his hands, opposing essentially every attempt to shore up broadband connectivity that shows up on the docket. He’s voted against raising the definition of broadband to 25 Mbps. He’s voted against stopping giant ISPs from writing state laws that protect regional duopolies. He’s even voted against fining AT&T for blatantly lying to its customers. O’Rielly’s MO is to shut down every proposal that comes down the pike (including many that can help consumers), then proudly pat himself on the back for being a hero of the American public. That suggests he’s probably the very last person we should be asking when it comes to determining what technology is or isn’t absolutely necessary.

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Comments on “FCC Commissioner Legally Tasked With Bringing Broadband To All Americans Doesn't Think Broadband's All That Important”

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Jason says:

Broadband has become the modern equivalent of telephone, television, and radio…an indispensable means of communicating. (In many cases, it’s not even the equivalent… it is all of those things.)

One would hope for a world where the people in charge of the Federal Communications Commission would recognize that.

1stworlder (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why do people who have not worked in 5 generation need taxpayer paid broadband?

George Washington was the richest man of his day, & one of his prize possessions was an ice cream maker. He most likely ate far less icecream during his lifetime than someone on food stamps ate by age 10.

I know a hipanic RN that earns $45/hr but could not afford to do what this woman did while on welfare, traveling up and down the coast for months looking for the best house sect8 could buy http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/housing-vouchers-a-golden-ticket-to-pricey-suburbs/2011/06/23/AGDNc7kH_story.html

Groaker (profile) says:

He is a Luddite. Terrified of what he can not comprehend.

He is not the problem. A political system which propagandizes one thing, and then creates a power structure to do the opposite is the problem. That along with a populace which doesn’t seem to remember promises made and broken from one second to the next.

Note that O’Rielly was appointed by Obama.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t forget that the law requires the FCC to have no more than three members of the same party as the sitting President out of the total of five. Since the guy being replaced by O’Rielly was a Republican and his replacement had to get through Senate confirmation without being blocked by filibustering Republicans (IIRC this was before the Republicans acquired a majority in the Senate), he had to pick someone ‘suitably’ conservative.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not seeing the forest here...

Someone can claim they don’t need internet to live their lives… but the same can be said for electricity, and yet it’s treated like a utility and it’s difficult to find people willing to admit it’s unnecessary for living at this point.

Chances are, if you don’t personally use the internet, you rely on someone who does to help you through life in these modern times. It’s nearly impossible to get information or communicate with others without using the internet in some fashion.

Even landline phones eventually may utilize the internet to connect you to distant contacts.

Eventually, the majority of communications (other than face-to-face) will all utilize internet connections at some point – it’s inevitable. Declaring that you don’t need internet access is declaring you intend to only ever communicate with people in person. It’s possible, but not probable in today’s society.

Furthermore, information access is quickly moving toward a digital-only future – and while learning and accessing information may not be required to live, it’s certainly considered a human right to be able to do so freely.

The people making these assertions are either the elderly (who still don’t understand how the world has changed around them), Amish, or living in 3rd world countries where they need access to technology more than anything.

1stworlder (profile) says:

Re: No surprise here

Stop by the site WHITE GIRL BLEED A LOT, and you will no longer believe that blacks get shot for no reason. Did you even see the Ferguson liquor store robbery video of Gentle Mike 10 min before he was shot where he roughed up the Asian liquor store clerk and all the “hands up” witnesses participated?

Baron von Robber says:

Hmm, in the Stone Age, having access to stone was very important.
In the Bronze Age, having access to bronze was very important.
In the Iron Age, having access to iron was very important.
In the Industrial Age, having access to industrialization was very important.
In the Information Age, fuck you! I got mine!

-some prick of a FCC Commisioner.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Human rights are standards of behavior that are inherent in every human being. They are the core principles underpinning human interaction in society. These include liberty, due process or justice, and freedom of religious beliefs. I find little sympathy with efforts to try to equate Internet access with these higher, fundamental concepts.”

These and other human rights are degraded beyond recognition already in the US (including access to fresh drinking water which of course is not a right but a commodity if we are to believe the Nestle CEO).
So I can see how this guy doesn;t think broadband would have the same value as the human rights he mentions.

randomjoe (profile) says:

On the one hand I take issue with calling broadband a “Right”. Freedom of speech is a Right, freedom of religion is a Right, freedom against unreasonable search and seizure is a Right, etc. You have the same Rights whether you live in an apartment in Manhattan or the boonies of Alaska.

On the other hand, yeah, broadband today is right up there with electricity and telephone and the FCC should be pushing to bring it to all Americans.

I just put “Human Rights” one notch above modern conveniences like electricity and telephone.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I agree. I think there is need for another word, like an “imperative” or utility. “Right” seems a bit strong.

If I go build myself a cabin in the mountains of the Alaska panhandle, and move there, is broadband Internet still my right?

We need more broadband, more accessible, and more competition among providers. O’reilly is a bad FCC commish, but I still don’t see how Internet can even occupy the same ballpark as Free Speech.

That said, while not a RIGHT, it sure as heck is O’Reilly’s JOB to get more broadband out there.

Anonymous Coward says:

would someone like to explain how this guy got his job? like so many others, he seems to be totally oblivious to modern society.
i just wondered if there was a giant bowl full of people like him that get pulled out on a random basis just to throw some idiocy into the equations of various (government, usually) bodies? he definitely should not be involved in broadband, given his thoughts, so why keep him employed thus??

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So many problems would be solved if that was applied government wide…

Against broadband? You(and your staff) don’t get any, enjoy dial-up.

In favor of the public being spied on? Say goodbye to your privacy, all of your devices(computer/phone/tablet) are now accessible(read only though) to anyone from the public, with attempting to keep a ‘private’ device resulting in automatically losing office.

Against affordable health-care? Say goodbye to taxpayer paid health-care plans, you have to pay for your own plans, from your own money.

Speaking of ‘your own money’, link government pay to the average national pay(after cutting out the extremes on both ends), and then watch them start clamoring about how people just aren’t getting paid enough.

Things would be very different indeed if those that made the laws were the first ones to be affected by them, rather than never having to worry about the after-effects at all.

Anonymous Coward says:


we’re reaching the point where broadband needs to be thought of as a basic human right

How can this statement be made? After all, someone has to provide that “right”. A right is something that nobody has to provide but the minute the government has to force someone to provide you that right, they are infringing on the other persons rights.

Groaker (profile) says:

Dilution of rights

The more “rights” there are, the less any of them matter. There is a right to the safety of life and limb from one’s government. There is a right to the freedom of speech.

There is no right to have a road built in front of one’s house. Having a general agreement amongst the populace and elected officials that a road is probably a good idea, is a privilege, not a right. This I discovered through trying to have a road built in front of my driveway as well as that of others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Dilution of rights

It’s not a dilution of rights, it is declaring things as rights that require other people to provide them to you. A right is not something that is provided by the government or others. Otherwise we have to infringe on those others rights to provide those rights. How is that right?

Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Dilution of rights

Yes, as a propaganda tactic it is a dilution of rights. When real rights, such as the freedom of speech, are equated to and ethically classed with a “right” to the ‘net, the meaning and value of real rights are reduced and diminished.

Speech is a powerful thing. Effacing the symbol erodes reality in the minds of many people.

Our forefathers fought, suffered and died for those rights. But now, much, if not most of the population believes that civil liberties are the bane of society — until they are personally arrested, beaten or shot by the blue gang.

Anonymous Coward says:

It might not be a right...

but it is a very big supporting tool for rights. Think about it: never before have we had the opportunity to express free speech so thoroughly (even though some wants to take that right away), or the possibility to reveal wrongdoing to our rights like we can today.
In the past they HAD to get the attention of the media in order to do such things. Today the media is the opposite and not for the people anymore, but we finally have the tools ourselves, to support our rights.

My opinion is that, even though I am not sure it should be called a right, it is a very big necessity.

Lori Burdin says:


I live seven minutes from an interstate highway and have satellite Internet. You may say I can use dial up, but would you believe a neighbor was out LANDLINE phone for two months! My Challenge: Let’s exchange broadband experiences for 1 week…no, just three days. I doubt I will hear the words, “Challenge Accepted.” Wake up!

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