FCC Boss Under Fire For Facts-Optional Attack On Low-Income Broadband Programs

from the science-schmience dept

For a while now, we’ve noted how FCC boss Ajit Pai professes to be some kind of a hero to the poor, despite the fact that his policies are quickly making broadband and TV services more expensive for Americans. His extremely unpopular net neutrality repeal, for example, will only wind up driving up costs for consumers as entrenched ISPs jack up costs for competitors and consumers alike. And when Pai wasn’t busy killing net neutrality, he was busy killing efforts to make cable boxes more competitive and affordable, or making it easier for prison phone monopolies to rip off inmate families via absurdly over-priced services.

Pai has also been taking aim at a government program dubbed Lifeline, which makes expensive American telecom services slightly less expensive for poor families. The program, started under Reagan and expanded under Bush Jr., simply gives low-income homes a $9.25 credit they can use for home phone, broadband, or wireless service (they have to pick one). Traditionally, this program has had pretty broad, bipartisan support, and is uniformly seen as pretty much the least the government can do to help those struggling to make ends meet.

But Pai’s attack on Lifeline has come via death by a thousand cuts, and is starting to alarm folks that actually try to help poor people for a living. Most recently, Pai tabled a proposal that would declare that smaller wireless MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators, like Boost or Virgin Mobile) could no longer participate in Lifeline. While Pai has claimed that these changes will somehow magically boost broadband deployment, he hasn’t been able to offer the slightest shred of data to support that contention.

Even Pai allies like Verizon, who didn’t even ask for this deregulation favor, have stated that Pai’s changes won’t do what he claims and will harm the poor. It’s pretty strange to see an instance of deregulation pushed through that the industry itself didn’t push for, just as it’s strange to see Verizon and consumer advocates agreeing on something.

That said, a group of 10 Senators including Ron Wyden wrote Pai last week expressing concern that Pai’s actions are in stark contrast to his breathless support of closing the digital divide:

“Your proposal impacts over 70 percent of current Lifeline-recipient households by eliminating their wireless providers from the program, leaving less affordable and fewer Lifeline options, while making it more difficult for the companies trying to serve Lifeline customers,” Senate Democrats wrote in the letter to Pai yesterday. “Instead of cutting the program, we should ensure Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services.”

The Senators were also quick to point out that the FCC offered no hard evidence to support its claim that reducing participation in the program will somehow expand broadband availability:

“The December 1, 2017, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) provides no evidence, analysis, or data to support its assumption that the FCC?s proposed changes to Lifeline will spur facilities-based broadband deployment and additional affordable services for low-income families. Provide any specific data, analysis, academic studies, economic reports, etc. that you relied on to support this assumption. Explain why the NPRM included no evidence or data to support this assumption.”

The FCC has yet to vote on this proposal (the public comment period ended last week), but is likely to in the coming months. Hopefully Pai shows a little more flexibility than he did during his attack on net neutrality when he not only used debunked lobbyist data to justify his positions, but directed journalists to telecom lobbying organizations if they had questions. That said, if Pai has made anything clear, it’s that he’s on an ideological crusade that’s not only viciously unpopular, but isn’t likely to have its trajectory altered by pesky things like the welfare of the public, or, say… facts.

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Comments on “FCC Boss Under Fire For Facts-Optional Attack On Low-Income Broadband Programs”

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Anonymous Hero says:

A case for a public option?

The ability to communicate, disseminate, and consume ideas fosters innovation, creativity, and understanding. This would be a good area for which the USA could take a leading role by providing a public option for broadband connectivity.

Many countries already provide free health care to their citizens. I imagine it would be less expensive to provide free broadband.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

He probably bought into the attacks on this program a few years ago from some conservative groups.

Essentially, some people only discovered that this program existed while Obama was in office, hence they wrongly thought that Obama created it. There were some Youtube videos of poor people thanking Obama for help getting affordable cell phones.

This caused some conservative groups who think everything Obama did must be bad to label this system ‘Obama Phones’, even though Obama didn’t start the system. And because it was an ‘Obama Phone’ that Obama ‘started’ that met the program was bad and had to go.

I bet that’s probably the whole reason why Pai is going after this system, because he still thinks of it as ‘Obama Phones’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nah, Pai is a true libertarian crusader. He is working for an agency he is ideologically against and thus is bit by bit decomposing it. As a true libertarian, though, he hates state regulation with an equal vigour. What he ends up doing is – like for his mentor, il duce – anyones guess…

In the name of the nightwatch state, he is a hero of the ruling Sinclair cartel!

Mike-2 Alpha (profile) says:

So this is probably just my paranoid brain working overtime, but stay with me here. Pai, who is in Verizon’s pocket from day one, gets installed as the head of the FCC by a sympathetic government. He does the job he’s paid to do by gutting things like net neutrality and doing a few other favours along the way. Then, with his list of targets exhausted, he goes after a program that might be seen as a bridge too far. That same government that installed him then turns around and villifies him before firing him before he can do anything to that program. He rides off to his cushy job at Verizon or some industry-supported lobby group.

He gets his payoff. They get their scapegoat. Verizon gets the regulatory changes it wanted. And the senators who arranged his ouster get to look like heroes without having to actually reverse the damage he’s done.

Eh. I’m probably just jumping at shadows.

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