The FCC's 'Broadband Advisory Council' Keeps Losing Members Due To Cronyism
from the adorable-little-stage-play dept
Last year, FCC boss Ajit Pai repeatedly hyped the creation of a new “Broadband Deployment Advisory Council” (BDAC) purportedly tasked with coming up with solutions to the nation’s broadband problem. Unfortunately, reports just as quickly began to circulate that this panel was little more than a who’s who of entrenched telecom operators with a vested interest in protecting the status quo. What’s more, the panel featured few representatives from the countless towns and cities that have been forced to build their own broadband networks in the wake of telecom sector dysfunction.
When first introduced, the FCC proclaimed that the agency was built to provide the FCC 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.”
This being Ajit Pai, you’ll probably be shocked to learn that none of this has actually happened. The panel has seen a slow but steady stream of departures by folks who say that not only is the panel ignoring the input of people Pai doesn’t agree with, but the panel itself hasn’t actually accomplished much of anything. Back in January, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo penned a letter saying he’d be resigning from the panel, claiming in his resignation letter (pdf) that the panel exists almost exclusively to help prop up the interests of incumbent ISPs (if you’ve watched the whole net neutrality thing, this surely comes as no surprise):
“It has become abundantly clear that despite the good intentions of several participants, the industry-heavy makeup of BDAC will simply relegate the body to being a vehicle for advancing the interests of the telecommunications industry over those of the public. The apparent goal is to create a set of rules that will provide industry with easy access to publicly-funded infrastructure at taxpayer subsidized rates, without any obligation to provide broadband access to underserved residents.”
Liccardo, one of the only municipal representatives on the panel (quite by intent), goes on to note how the agency has yet to put forth one meaningful solution to truly help bridge the digital divide, something you’ll recall Pai constantly insists is his top priority:
“The chairs of the working groups on which I participated have been very cordial, and collaborative in tone, and I am grateful for that. However, after nine months of deliberation, negotiation, and discussion, we?ve made no progress toward a single proposal that will actually further the goal of equitable broadband deployment. Although we?ve adopted principles that pay lip service to that objective, not a single one of the draft recommendations attempts to meaningfully identify any new or significant resources to promote digital inclusion.”
Liccardo’s resignation has been followed by the resignation of New York City CTO Miguel Gami?o Jr. late last month, who had very similar complaints in his own resignation letter:
“As the BDAC?s process is scheduled to come to a close, it is clear that despite good faith efforts by both the staff and members involved, the membership structure and meeting format of the BDAC has skewed the drafting of the proposed recommendations towards industry priorities without regard for a true public-private partnership. These circumstances give me no choice but to step away from this committee in order to direct the City?s energy and resources to alternative forums that provide more productive opportunities for achieving the kind of cooperative progress in advancing broadband deployment in the public interest.”
The reality is that deploying broadband to more remote or less affluent areas is slow-going with limited return on investment, requiring some creative solutions to improve connectivity (especially on the public/private partnership front). But there’s a contingent of cocksure, hardline free marketeer types who believe government can absolutely never accomplish anything good, making the idea that better broadband needs to be a combined effort between private industry and local governments a tough pill to swallow.
So instead of swallowing it, folks like Pai have decided to instead embrace protectionist state law that makes the problem worse, while putting on little stage plays like this one designed, predominately, to give the illusion that protecting the entrenched status quo (read: AT&T, Verizon, Comcast revenues) isn’t the top priority.