If New FCC Boss Ajit Pai Is So 'Pro Consumer,' Why Does The Telecom Industry Need To Pay People To Say So?

from the dollar-per-holler dept

On his first day new FCC Boss Ajit Pai repeatedly and breathlessly insisted that consumers and the digital divide would be his top priority. The problem: that dedication was directly contradicted by not only Pai’s past voting record at the agency, but his first actions as agency head. Out of the gate Pai undermined an FCC legal case against prison phone telecom monopolies, scrapped an FCC plan to bring competition to the cable box, killed all ongoing zero rating inquiries and began laying the ground work for killing net neutrality, and prevented nine already-approved ISPs from helping the poor via the agency’s Lifeline program.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take particularly long for some news outlets to realize that Pai’s words weren’t supported by his actions. Both The Washington Post and the New York Times penned editorials blasting Pai, most notably for his ongoing disdain for net neutrality, which has broad, bipartisan support.

Driven to defend Pai’s selection as FCC boss for obvious reasons, ISPs got right to work fighting back via their traditional weapon of choice: bullshitters for hire. Shortly after the Post and Times pieces surfaced, contrasting op-eds quickly popped up in newspapers and websites nationwide claiming Pai is actually an incredible boon to consumers, competition and innovation. Most of these op-eds failed to adequately disclose the authors’ financial ties to large broadband providers, or the fact they take money while pretending to be objective analysts — often including Congressional testimony.

Fred Campbell, a long-standing ISP-funded “consultant,” penned a piece over at Forbes blasting the Post and Times for “doublespeak,” while insisting that Pai is secretly a hero of the people:

“Doublespeak is language that disguises or even reverses the meaning of words in order to disguise the nature of the truth. A flurry of attacks on Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, are full of it. It?s clear that Pai is serious about closing the digital divide between those who use cutting-edge communications services and those who do not.”

Ah the post-truth era, when those that spend the most time practicing doublespeak endlessly whine about doublespeak.

Look, if you actually talk to any genuine consumer advocate in the telecom space (they’re easy to spot: they’re the ones with limited budgets and shittier suits), they’ll quickly tell you that while Pai is a nice guy — he’s a water carrier for industry, rarely if ever challenging their positions on any issue of consumer note. You only need look at his voting record, and the numerous times he not only voted down indisputably pro-consumer initiatives like net neutrality, but refused to hold companies like AT&T accountable for outright fraud — even when that fraud involved the Lifeline program Pai professes to now adore.

Campbell’s editorial was one of numerous, similar missives. Rick Boucher, one-time respected Congressional fair use champion, now works at Sidley Austin, a law firm that effectively acts as an AT&T policy arm. That direct financial tie isn’t really made clear in an op-ed over at Light Reading, where Boucher informs readers that, despite his nonexistent track record on the subject, Pai will somehow be a champion of expanded broadband coverage:

“Chairman Pai recently announced the formation of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, a task force that will offer “specific” recommendations to speed broadband deployment and, in his words, “close the digital divide.”

Pai’s action is an excellent first step towards accelerating broadband deployment (and adoption) throughout the country. Getting great minds together to hack a solution is both wise and urgent. And perhaps most important, it’s a sign that fact-based decision-making is now the order of the day at the FCC.”

But forming a committee to talk about the digital divide isn’t an actual solution to anything — especially expanded broadband coverage. And it certainly doesn’t magically obliterate Pai’s anti-consumer, and anti-startup voting record. If there’s an FCC plan to actually shore up competition or bring broadband to the under-served (like the FCC’s recent vote to ensure low-income users can use their $9.25 monthly Lifeline credit for broadband), you can be fairly certain Pai voted against it. It’s not really something that’s open to debate. Well, unless you’re the type that’s paid to pretend that generally-accepted facts are up for debate.

It’s important to understand that broadband providers and politicians adore slathering meaningless platitudes upon the “digital divide” because it earns them cheap political brownie points without having to do much of anything. In fact that’s Comcast’s entire lobbying MO, and the primary reason they renamed their top lobbyist the company’s “Chief Diversity Officer.” It’s a simple schtick: distract the public by professing your support for closing the digital divide with the bare minimum of effort, while denying the singular problem that causes broadband coverage gaps and high prices in the first place: a lack of competition.

Over at The Hill, the National Grange, one of countless organizations telecom providers pay to support megamergers and other unpopular policy, also ignores Pai’s clear and obvious history, claiming he’ll be an incredible boon for rural communities. Over at the telecom-industry funded Heartland Institute blog, Scott Cleland, who also takes funds from the sector while pretending to be an objective analyst, crows that Pai will “return a pro-consumer focus” to the FCC:

“Unlike the Federal Communications Commission?s previous head, new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is putting consumers first, not net neutrality. The sad reality is that the previous FCC did the bidding of the biggest edge providers, both on the issue of net neutrality and opening up the cable box market, as I will explain.”

Up is down, black is white. We’ve long noted how the broadband industry has tried to downplay net neutrality issues by claiming that everything is somehow Netflix’s fault, and incumbent broadband providers are just misunderstood, innocent daisies. Logical cohesion is generally missing from this narrative, but Pai himself has played a starring role in claiming repeatedly that — in stark contrast to all available evidence — it’s the edge (content and service companies not-coincidentally challenging the industry’s TV stranglehold) providers that are the real internet villains.

This disconnect between reality and dollar-per-hollar rhetoric is nothing new, especially in telecom. Former FCC boss Michael Powell, now the cable industry’s top lobbyist, made a career out of paying endless lip service to consumers to the acclaim of industry sockpuppets, while his actions repeatedly worked to undermine oversight of giant companies like Comcast (to obvious end). That’s because the real goal for most of these folks is something you may have ferreted out already: protection of loyal campaign contributor revenues above all else. If anything, there’s an active disdain for the consumer.

If Pai actually were “pro consumer,” his voting record would reflect it with minimal debate. And consumer advocates (the ones that actually spend ten hours a day fighting the good fight to little acclaim or profit) wouldn’t be issuing warnings about “empty rhetoric” and “Orwellian” behavior at the FCC. At the end of the day you have to wonder: if you need to covertly pay people to support your argument, what kind of argument do you actually have?

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Comments on “If New FCC Boss Ajit Pai Is So 'Pro Consumer,' Why Does The Telecom Industry Need To Pay People To Say So?”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Double-plus good consumer concern at that

"Unlike the Federal Communications Commission’s previous head, new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is putting consumers first, not net neutrality.

Focus on strong net neutrality rules(and enforcing them) is ‘putting consumers first’. The public benefits from companies not being able to pick and choose who gets special treatment and who doesn’t, and instead being required to treat all traffic equally.

Protecting meaningful net neutrality rules is protecting the public, for his claim to make any sense you basically have to operate under the assumption that net neutrality is somehow bad for the public, which is just a wee bit absurd.

Anonymous Coward says:


“If New FCC Boss Ajit Pai Is So ‘Pro Consumer,'”

Well, he IS ‘Pro Consumer’… just that you need to understand that in HIS world, the Telco’s are the consumers… not citizens.

They purchase government corruption in the same way regular Citizens purchase and consume food.

So yea… ‘Pro Consumer’!

TechDescartes (profile) says:

There's Always More Than One Way

It’s clear that Pai is serious about closing the digital divide between those who use cutting-edge communications services and those who do not.

They are closing the divide, but by redefining "cutting edge" instead of encouraging better networks. Currently, the FCC website describes all of the following as levels of "broadband":

  • Basic Service = 1 to 2 Mbps*
  • Medium Service = 6 to 15 Mbps
  • Advanced Service = More than 15 Mbps

Just two years ago, the FCC defined "broadband" as only those connections of at least 25 Mbps. So yes, they are closing the divide—by pretending it doesn’t exist.

PissedOffVeteran says:

Waiting for charges to be filed against Ishit Poo

Since this member of the galactically stupid club is actually going against the mandate of the FTC, his actions are actionable.

Can’t wait to see his sorry ass removed from office by Congress, and slammed into Gitmo, right next to some other nameless “rhymes with Chump” who doesn’t realize that their “executive-orders” violate the constitution making them a traitor to the people of this country.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Waiting for charges to be filed against Ishit Poo

Wishful thinking, POV: Pai is a corporate glove puppet and as long as he’s useful his masters will protect him. Therefore Congress won’t remove him from office because Congress is bought and paid for.

As for “Rhymes with chump,” as you may have noticed, he’s popular. As long as that continues, he will continue to write those pesky EOs.

Expect to see the Constitution get a damn good reaming in the name of “taking our country back.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Ajit Pai is going to roll back anything that the Telco, Cable industry believes is costing them money and lost profits.

We are about to see the FCC roll back consumer protections to the stone age, and it is going to come out of every consumers pocket. Of course the Cable and Telco’s are going to gush about how great Pai is because Pai is towing the line and doing exactly what they want.

Pai much like Trump is all of sudden concerned about why people are saying all these negative things about him being the man in charge at the FCC. Maybe that has to do with the fact that his views on protecting consumers was well know before he became the head of the FCC, and now that he is the head of the FCC his position on consumer protection is what we all ready knew, that he is the Telco and Cable companies man.

So while Pai can sit and claim his feigned love for the consumer, we all know that the things that the FCC got right for the consumer will soon be relegated to nothing and it is going to be a free for all for the Telco and Cable industry to gouge the consumer for every nickle they can and throw that privacy and protection of your information out the window

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Free market? What free market?

As long as consumer protection means “Take it or leave it, you chump” and “Vote with your wallet after your money has been taken,” and “Tort law has been reformed so you can’t sue for damages, etc.? Not my problem,” expect to see more of this in the name of the free market.

In an actually free market, or at least one that is more open, free, and fair, we could expect to see competition forcing these people to be honest. In that glorious alternative universe Pai would ensure that consumers’ and corporate rights were maintained in a careful balance. While Tom Wheeler never quite reached those dizzy heights he did at least gain a foothold. We need someone like him who is fearless and on our side. If there is a campaign to reform the FCC to get it back on our side, let’s be joining it.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:


"It’s clear that Pai is serious about closing the digital divide between those who use cutting-edge communications services and those who do not."

Well, from a certain angle that might even be true! After all, if you’re only interested in the US, then eventually the lack of investment will make sure that no-one uses "cutting-edge communications". Divide problem solved!

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