New FCC Boss Ajit Pai Insists He's All About Helping The Poor, Gets Right To Work Harming Them Instead

from the watch-what-I-do,-not-what-I-say dept

Just last week, new FCC boss Ajit Pai made a speech in front of FCC staffers breathlessly professing his dedication (pdf) to consumers, innovation, and closing the digital divide. In a post over at Medium, the former Verizon lawyer again insisted that closing the digital divide would be the defining theme of his tenure as FCC Boss:

“I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners on this aggressive agenda to connect Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide, to allow broadcasters to innovate and better serve viewers, and to reduce unnecessary regulations. And Groundhog Day or not, you can expect that I will return to these themes over and over and over again.”

So, how is Pai doing on his promise after just a few weeks in office? Let’s see. In just the last few weeks, Pai:

  • Began undermining FCC attempts to prevent prison phone monopolies from dramatically overcharging inmate families for phone calls.
  • Dropped all FCC investigations into whether or not zero rating violates net neutrality and drives up rates for streaming video consumers — the opening salvo of what’s believed to be the rollback of all net neutrality protections.
  • Killed an attempt by the FCC to bring competition to the cable box market, which would have threatened $20 billion in cable industry rental fee revenues.
  • Not to be outdone, Pai also actually made it harder for poor people to get discounted broadband by unnecessarily disqualifiying nine, already approved small ISPs (Spot On, Boomerang Wireless, KonaTel, FreedomPop, AR Designs, Kajeet, Liberty, Northland Cable, and Wabash Independent Networks) from participating in the FCC’s Lifeline program. That program, founded by Reagan and expanded by Bush, doles out $9.25 per low-income household for them to use on phone or broadband service. Last year the FCC expanded it marginally so low-income homes could use that money to pay for stand-alone broadband, cellular, or fixed-line phone service (Pai, digital divide closer extraordinaire, voted down that effort).

    The FCC’s rushed-through late Friday order makes a big deal out of the amount of fraud occurring in the Lifeline program, ignoring that under Wheeler’s watch, the agency managed to finally get a handle on much of it. Like that time AT&T was caught falsely inflating its Lifeline subscriber rolls to keep getting subsidies it didn’t deserve (punishment for which, again, Pai himself voted down). But there’s no evidence the nine ISPs targeted by Pai were involved in any fraudulent behavior whatsoever. And when Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica tried several times to get the FCC to clarify why these ISPs were singled out, the agency refused:

    “Pai’s FCC says the commission wants to implement new measures to combat fraud and waste in the Lifeline program and that revoking the Lifeline designations will provide additional time to achieve that. But none of the nine providers was accused of fraud, and the FCC already has the power to investigate and punish any provider that defrauds the program. Pai could have let these companies continue selling subsidized broadband to poor people as long as they committed no fraud, but he chose not to.”

    Unsurprisingly, the people out in the field actually trying to get broadband to the poor were greatly annoyed by Pai’s “help.” Kajeet’s founder Daniel Neal finds Pai’s particular version of assistance a little bit curious when asked about it by the Los Angeles Times:

    “I?m most concerned about the children we serve,? Kajeet founder Daniel Neal said. ?We partner with school districts ? 41 states and the District of Columbia ? to provide educational broadband so that poor kids can do their homework.”

    Consumer advocacy groups like Public Knowledge were also quick to point out how Pai broke the sound barrier in rushing to immediately undermine his own agency’s promises:

    “The most obvious fact in our society is that high-speed Internet is astronomically expensive for the middle class and down,? said Gene Kimmelman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. ?So in any way limiting the Lifeline program, at this moment in time, exacerbates the digital divide. It doesn?t address it in any positive way.”

    So yes, when your definition of “helping the poor” includes ensuring cable boxes stay expensive and closed, allowing duopolies to abuse net neutrality and drive up service costs, protecting prison monopoly telcos that have price-gouged families for years, and preventing smaller ISPs from actually helping the poor you profess to love — you have to wonder what it looks like when Pai actively wants to harm something.

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    Comments on “New FCC Boss Ajit Pai Insists He's All About Helping The Poor, Gets Right To Work Harming Them Instead”

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    That One Guy (profile) says:

    Simple mistake

    Clearly when he says he wants to ‘help the poor’ either the mic cuts out when he’s talking to someone and it’s being recorded, the connection goes on the fritz for a second when talking online, or the other person gets distracted and misses the second half of his sentence when talking in person.

    The whole sentence is, "I want to help the poor telecom companies who don’t yet have all the money, and help them get out from under the burdensome ‘rules’ and ‘regulations’ that keep them from that."

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Let me guess what comes next

    Guesses where the future will take us during the next four years:

    1. Technology innovation and security act – Reduced regulations on the development of new telecom technology to enhance the accessibility of more Americans to critical internet functionality.
    Translation: We are going to stop enforcing any rules on cableco rental market and look away while the cableco’s start forcing all users to use expensive, rented devices like modems/routers while banning personal devices in the name of fake “security”

    2. Digital Divide – allowing low cost, established infrastructure to be used instead of taxpayer funded internet programs.
    Translation: Banning cities to provide free public internet in places like libraries and instead force them to sign expensive contracts with a cableco that will significantly overcharge per user.

    DillonN says:

    what did U expect ?


    So you have a big government agency & its chief bureaucrat doing big stuff that you really hate …. What did you expect ??

    With the FCC creation and its ever-expanding powers — did you expect it to be always staffed by angels who always did the “right things” for the public — or did you consider that the “wrong people” might someday get control of those great FCC powers ?

    Liberal-Progressives never see the downside of the socialist regulatory state… until it smacks them in their face.

    DillonN says:

    Re: Re: what did U expect ?

    … in simple terms, socialism is government control of a private markets. There are various degrees of socialism, ranging from full government control of a national economy… to limited control of some industries & markets within an economy.

    The FCC represents large, direct government intervention into private “communications” markets and voluntary private exchanges. Government FCC bureaucrats arbitrarily command peaceful private citizens to do what they would not otherwise do.

    PaulT (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re: what did U expect ?

    “The FCC represents large, direct government intervention into private “communications” markets and voluntary private exchanges.”

    Yeah, just as other agencies step in to prevent the immoral sociopathic tendencies of large corporations in other markets. Weirdly, regulated markets tend to be necessary, as centuries of history show.

    But, “government bad!” you say. Right up until you’re personally screwed over because you removed your own protections, of course.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re: Re: what did U expect ?

    So you believe that the government should not exist at all? that there should be no watchdog over the actions of any of its citizens? What happens when one of its citizens decides to act in a selfish manner? Lets keep this very narrow. Only consider that question in the context of the telecom industry.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re: Re:4 what did U expect ?

    The elimination of government. Somolia’s government was/perhaps still is, so dysfunctional, it’s practically non-existent. So, I’m comparing Drumpf’s picks for Dept and cabinet (those that want to dismantle the missions of their own office) to that of Somolia.

    Making the USA 1700 (prior to existance) the same.


    Dean William Barnes (profile) says:

    Re: Re: Re: what did U expect ?

    Sorry DillonN you clearly do not understand socialism, or it seems capitalism either. Socialism is a political term related to how the voices of many influence the decision making system of a particular government institution. Democracy can be argued is a form of Socialism. Capitalism is an economic term relating to how markets are derived and operate. Communism is another economic model, one where there are no free markets. Again an economic model, not political. You also seem to have an issue with the grey line that separates private from public. You see, when a point arrives where a consumer no longer has a choice to consume or not consume, that the ability to live and operate within a society becomes dependent on a product X, that product can no longer be considered private, it becomes a public need critical to safety and stability of a population, hence a need for government intervention/control. The issues you express with the FCC make no sense if you truly support a free market because the most critical requirement of a free market IS A FREE MARKET!!! There can not be one or two or three players colluding at a table to divide the market among themselves (a monopoly), but a truly vibrant competitive market with true competition. If no such free market exists then either government intervenes or it doesn’t. And you have what exists today. A strong FCC and other entities like are required for effective control of monopolies and the abuses that come from them. Imagine where we would all be if IBM in the fifties were the only ones allowed to make computers. I could go on but there are a multitude of books/websites/ and resources on this.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re: Re: what did U expect ?

    The FCC represents a hands on market intervention in a market nobody sane would consider likely to develop into a well-working competitive market without significant regulation. How you achieve a working regulation of the market is completely fair to discuss and less regulation can absolutely be a valid strategy, but “government bad” and other such extremes is even more stupid than conflating communism and socialism…

    Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

    Re: Re: Re:2 what did U expect ?

    >>That program, founded by Reagan and expanded by Bush, doles out $9.25 per low-income household for them to use on phone or broadband service. Last year the FCC expanded it marginally so low-income homes could use that money to pay for stand-alone broadband, cellular, or fixed-line phone service (Pai, digital divide closer extraordinaire, voted down that effort).

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re: Re:2 what did U expect ?

    Since “government” is omnipresent, it is such an easy target. If people cared to be constructive, the distinguishing between different part of the legislative system becomes relevant. But, that is obviously not a winning move. There is only few reasons to like a certain regulation, but infinite reasons to dislike it…

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re: Re:3 what did U expect ?

    Historically anarchism has been expressed, particularly by left wing communist splinter fractions. Their methods have historically been to refuse to participate in parliamentary work in protest against the futility of the capitalist classes, who didn’t understand the inevitability of the socialist rebellion. Be aware that these groups generally considers statism appauling.

    The modern version we see here is a completely different species. They seem to tend more towards anarcho-capitalism, the hypocrit Ayn Rand and an economic school that rejects any problem in insufficient information.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re:

    Honestly his reasoning seems just as sound as our lord of truth, miss Conway: “Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck (…Non-coherent threading water…). You are calling it a falsehood (…Non-coherent threading water…). Sean Spicer gave altervative facts! But (…Non-coherent threading water…)(red:seeming to realize her mistake she smiles a desperate smile, while trying to come up with an addendum to soften the blow)”

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re:

    I fully agree that regulation that protects a monopoly is very bad.

    But on the other side concerning newcomers – there never has been, nor ever will be a free market for ISPs. The barriers to entry are far too high, cumbersome and embedded in the local regions. There needs to both be direct government involvement and strong regulations to keep it even passingly fair to both sides.

    One example: Think of the “last mile” infrastructure. Who gets to say who owns the cables? Who gets paid to lay down new cable? Who decides on the lease terms and costs for the cable if it is used by another company? etc…

    An unregulated “free market” may, possibly work in a heavily commoditized market where there is the realistic possibility of an infinite number of equal competitors. Closes that comes to my mind there is the production and selling of art. But even in that case there needs to be regulation for the safety of the consumer (don’t use poisonous metals in an earring) or the seller (no unrealistic contract requirements for a monopoly retail space – think Amazon/Etsy requiring a 100 year no-compete clause for any company that sells on their marketplace).

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Backwards, it all is

    Rather than Trump’s idea of not letting government employees be lobbyists for at least 5 years after they leave government, perhaps it should be the other way around. No hiring lobbyists by the government for at least 5 years after they stop being lobbyists. At least that way they have had a *little* exposure to the world, and the lobbying companies might gag at paying someone for 5 years to continue to maintain their interests in government ‘service’.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Backwards, it all is

    That would actually be infinitely better. As much as politicians can get some grease after having been elected, it is not a huge selling point in a job application that doesn’t require some handling of government. Lobbying is so-so. It is much worse when they get hired as directors of companies.

    There are both advantages and disadvantages to disallowing lobbyists, but overall, it might make for some reason entering into their work.

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