New FCC Broadband 'Advisory Panel' Stocked With Telecom Consultants, Allies & Cronies
from the parade-of-yes-men dept
On the one hand, FCC boss Ajit Pai proclaims to be a man dedicated to hard data, transparency, and closing the digital divide. But we’ve repeatedly highlighted how his public rhetoric is miles from his actual policies, which by and large focus on making life easier than ever for the nation’s entrenched, uncompetitive broadband mono/duopolies. From gutting broadband privacy and net neutrality protections, to protecting the cable industry’s monopoly over the cable box, Pai’s actions consistently reveal anti-competitive intent, while his words gracefully try to imply another, artificial artifice.
This stage play has apparently extended to Pai’s creation of a new Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which at an event earlier this year the FCC insisted would provide the agency with well-rounded input on how to improve broadband deployment:
“The BDAC’s mission will be to make recommendations for the Commission on how to accelerate the deployment of high-speed Internet access, or “broadband,” by reducing and/or removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment. This Committee is intended to provide an effective means for stakeholders with interests in this area to exchange ideas and develop recommendations for the Commission, which will in turn enhance the Commission’s ability to carry out its statutory responsibility to encourage broadband deployment to all Americans.”
Laying the blame for the broadband industry’s issues exclusively on “regulatory barriers” is already a telltale bit of over-simplification. While there certainly are some regulations that could be streamlined to improve broadband deployment (like utility pole attachment rules), the real problems in the industry have a notably larger origin: namely entrenched duopolists that relentlessly lobby government to help keep real, vibrant competition at bay. These lobbying tendrils run deep, with ISPs using hired academics, economists, PR reps and consultants all with one goal: protect the profitable, but often anti-consumer and dysfunctional status quo.
In a speech (pdf) given earlier this year, Pai proclaimed that his new advisory panel would be “forward-looking and fair, balancing the legitimate interests of municipalities with the ever-growing demands of the American public for better, faster, and cheaper broadband.” Odd, then, that the Daily Beast recently dug through the panel and found that 28 of the 30 panel members have direct financial ties to telecom operators:
“Instead the FCC loaded the 30-member panel with corporate executives, trade groups and free-market scholars. More than three out of four seats on the BDAC are filled by business-friendly representatives from the biggest wireless and cable companies such as AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp., Sprint Corp., and TDS Telecom. Crown Castle International Corp., the nation?s largest wireless infrastructure company, and Southern Co., the nation?s second-largest utility firm, have representatives on the panel. Also appointed to the panel were broadband experts from conservative think tanks who have been critical of FCC regulations such as the International Center for Law and Economics and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.”
In other words, not so much a “balanced” group of diverse stakeholders as much as an echo chamber filled with industry allies who’ll all happily stay on message, working in polite unison at reducing oversight and accountability for one of the most regulatory captured, least competitive markets in America. And while it’s important to have companies on the panel that have expertise building large networks, so too is it important to have an equal weight given to consumer activists, objective external experts, and folks that operate outside of the box when it comes to improving American connectivity.
Like Gary Carter, who runs one of the oldest municipal broadband networks in America (in Santa Monica, California). Carter says he was one of several representatives of municipal broadband providers hoping to be chosen for the panel, since they have a unique perspective on connecting communities incumbent ISPs have long refused to. But Carter says when he called the FCC to check up on the panel member selection process, he was literally laughed at:
?When I called [the FCC] to check on the status of the BDAC selection process [earlier this year] and identified myself as an employee from the City of Santa Monica, the gentleman on the phone laughed hysterically,? Carter said. ?At first I didn?t get the joke. When I saw the appointees for the municipal working group?only three out of 24 positions were from local government?I got the joke.?
You’ll of course recall that incumbent ISPs have worked tirelessly to pass protectionist state laws in more than twenty states hamstringing local communities’ ability to build their own networks or work with private partners. Why? They don’t want to serve many of these areas — but they don’t want anybody else to either — lest it ultimately blossom into something that resembles competition and challenges their regional monopolies. As such, including municipal broadband builders on the panel might just raise questions Pai and friends aren’t particularly interested in answering.
So again, while Pai’s rhetoric consistently focuses on his supposed dedication to the digital divide, in practice he’s simply engaging in wave after wave of anti-innovation, anti-competitive, and anti-consumer policies, then surrounding himself with industry allies who’ll do little more than pat him on the back for his remarkable “leadership.” Pai’s going to promise this all ends with miraculous innovation and broadband expansion, but the history lessons we like to ignore suggest it’s more likely the net result will simply be more apathetic companies like Comcast, with zero competitive or regulatory incentive to improve.