Court Rejects Ajit Pai's Bid To Reduce Broadband Subsidies For Tribal Areas

from the unnecessary-fisticuffs dept

For a while now we’ve been noting that while Ajit Pai professes to be a huge proponent of “closing the digital divide,” most of his policies are doing the exact opposite. Pai’s attacks on net neutrality, for example, will likely only act to drive up broadband prices for everyone as ISPs enjoy their newfound ability to creatively abusive captive customers in uncompetitive markets. And Pai has repeatedly attempted to fiddle with FCC data collection methodology with an eye toward obfuscating the industry’s competitive failures (be that skyrocketing prices or poor coverage).

That’s of course when he hasn’t been busy slowly-but-surely gutting programs designed to help bring broadband to the nation’s less affluent areas.

One of Pai’s core policies has been a relentless attack on the FCC’s Lifeline program. Lifeline was created under the Reagan administration and expanded under the George W. Bush administration, and provides low-income households with a measly $9.25 per month subsidy that low-income homes can use to help pay a tiny fraction of their wireless, phone, or broadband bills (enrolled participants have to chose one). The FCC under former FCC boss Tom Wheeler had voted to expand the service to cover broadband connections, something Pai (ever a champion to the poor) voted down.

Traditionally this program had broad, bipartisan support and was never deemed even remotely controversial. But ever since Trump and Pai stumbled into town, the current FCC has slowly waged war on the program. For example Pai’s FCC voted 3-2 last November to eliminate a $25 additional Lifeline subsidy for low-income native populations on tribal land. Pai’s FCC also banned smaller mobile carriers from participating in the Lifeline program, a move opposed by even the larger companies (Verizon, AT&T) Pai’s FCC normally nuzzles up to.

But Pai’s quest backfired late last week when a U.S. Appeals court issued a stay order (pdf) freezing Pai’s efforts to kill Tribal broadband subsidies, the court arguing that Tribal organizations and smaller wireless carriers are likely to win their court challenge against the recent FCC changes.

Small wireless carriers and several tribal organizations had sued the FCC (pdf) in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, noting the FCC “failed to engage affected tribal governments” ahead of the rule changes. Tribal leaders also filed a petition (pdf) claiming Pai’s multi-pronged attack on Lifeline would only make it harder to connect tribal lands to the internet.

So far the courts seem to be agreeing with them, and tribal groups have been quick to applaud the ruling:

“Residents of Tribal lands, like many low-income consumers, rely on Lifeline service from wireless resellers, who are the primary, and sometimes only, providers of Lifeline service,? Gene DeJordy, an attorney for the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, said in a statement. ?The victory today is for the people — Tribal members who cannot afford many of the basic necessities of life and rely on Lifeline service for their telephone and broadband needs.”

Pai had taken aim at the program’s use in tribal areas under purely ideological grounds (ie: government can never do good and should be gutted from all oversight of natural monopolies), insisting his agency was purely concerned about potential fraud in the program. But the court stated that it had “identified no evidence of fraud or misuse of funds in the aspects of the program at issue here.” As we saw with net neutrality, Pai likes to bend reality to fit his ideological agenda (aka sophistry), instead of letting facts inform policy.

Also like net neutrality, it’s yet another example of how Ajit Pai’s self-professed dedication to “closing the digital divide” looks suspiciously like a giant middle finger aimed at the communities he professes to be “helping.”

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Comments on “Court Rejects Ajit Pai's Bid To Reduce Broadband Subsidies For Tribal Areas”

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37 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You're careful to specify "natural monopolies"...

You can go without it.

Irrespective of your assertion about Google, please don’t confuse monopoly with essential facility.

The well-known “case of the monopolies”, Darcy v Allein (QB 1602), concerned a monopoly on the import and vending of playing cards in England. Playing cards aren’t an essential facility. Playing cards are a frivolous pastime. It was still an inconvenient monopoly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 You're careful to specify "natural monopolies"...

… also…

The gist of your previous premise was, “You can go without it.” Iow, in this latest comment you essentially just repeated your original premise.

But the quibble with your reasoning is that the premise simply has no bearing on whether or not a monopoly exists. That is to say, your premise doesn’t support your conclusion.

Which, to me, indicates some kind of fault in your reasoning. It appears likely that you may be having some trouble with the concepts or perhaps the language.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 You're careful to specify "natural monopolies"...

You be the fool. There is very little that Google does that is not available elsewhere. Therefore it is both not necessary, nor is it a monopoly. So you are wrong on both counts, and Ninja is right on both counts.

So far as language, Ninja has been around here a lot longer than you and he deals with English better than many native English speakers.

Given your propensity for childish argument, you might want to grow up before you try again. See you in 20 or 30 years.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 You're careful to specify "natural monopolies"...

And you repeated the wrong argument then. One service can be essential but you can still go without a determined company. Some Google services may be essential but not everything so I don’t classify Google itself as essential. And you can go without Google even if you consider the essential services because they can be found elsewhere very easily. A monopoly is only a monopoly if there aren’t alternatives. Google is not a monopoly. It offers awesome products and quality which is why it holds the bigger slice of the market but it’s hardly a monopoly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You're careful to specify "natural monopolies"...

By being the only one worth using. IE they out-competed everyone else to such a degree, they are close to becoming a generic term. Kleenex and Xerox are other examples that are not monopolies but are household names and often the first one that comes to mind when needed.

Around here, by the way, trolls like you are thought of in much the same way, only not in a good light.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You're careful to specify "natural monopolies"...

https://duckduckgo.com/ works for me, so Google is not the only viable search engine out there.

Oh, and they state:

1. We don’t store your personal info.

2. We don’t follow you around with ads.

3. We don’t track you. Ever.

Now I have not tested this, nor have I had any reason to.

Is it better than Google or any other search engine? I wouldn’t know, I haven’t even tried testing them. I find what I am looking for and don’t worry about the rest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: You're careful to specify "natural monopolies"...

That doesn’t really prove the point, does it? Most people looking for kleenexes don’t care whether they’re made by the Kleenex Corporation or whatever it’s called, and someone looking for a xerox machine will likely be satisfied by whatever xerographic copier they’re presented with. "Only one worth using?" What generic trademark works like that? Certainly the given examples both have robust competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: You're careful to specify "natural monopolies"...

By being the only one worth using.

Sorry pal, that doesn’t qualify something as being a monopoly. The only way something is a monopoly is if it’s the only game in town. Google is far from the only game in town for any of their services or offerings. And some would argue that their competitors do it better they do. Android vs iPhone and Google+ vs Facebook are just two that come to mind immediately.

Kleenex and Xerox are other examples that are not monopolies but are household names and often the first one that comes to mind when needed.

That just means that the term is the first to come to mind. If you go looking for tissues, you’ll find a lot more brands than just Kleenex on the shelves.

trolls like you

I’m sorry, I think you’re confused. I believe you are the troll here, not the other way around.

Anonymous Coward says:

Upcoming Thursday: FCC Oversight Hearing

On Thursday, August 16, 2018, at 10am EDT, the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a full committee hearing, on “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)”.

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),” at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 16, 2018. As part of the committee’s oversight responsibilities, this hearing will examine policy issues before the Commission and review the FCC’s ongoing duties and activities.

Live video of this full committee hearing is expected to be webcast from both the Senate website and from C-SPAN. Live cable TV coverage is scheduled on C-SPAN 1.

Madd the Sane (profile) says:

Re: Questions to ask the FCC

Call your senators, ask them to be there, and have them ask questions that are about proof. I’ve called my senators and have asked them to ask the following questions to the FCC:

  1. What is the FCC doing about identity theft and fraud on the comments section?
  2. How is the FCC closing the digital divide?
  3. How did the 2015 Net Neutrality rules hurt investment of the major ISPs?
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Questions to ask the FCC

4) Has the FCC provided evidence of the harms caused by the 2015 order to the SEC to aide investigation of securities fraud related to statements to investors that the Net neutrality order did not affect investment? If not, why has the FCC turned a deaf ear to statements by ISPs to investors?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 'They said it didn't. You say it did. One of you is lying.'

It would be glorious were one or more senators to bring the actual statements the companies made about how the 2015 rules had no impact on them and grilled Pai as to how those statements squared with his claims that they’d caused significant damage to investment.

No changing the subject, no weaseling out, demand that he provide the evidence his multiple and repeated claims of damage were based upon, and how it differed so much from the investors’.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

'Merica screwing Indian Tribes over since the 1800's

But we gave them casinos & tobacco sales!!!
And you setup towns that exist only to get them drunk.
But we tried to use them to protect our drug monopolies!!!

We’ve broken every treaty, every promise… Pai is just living up the the American way, take from the least so someday the corporations might decide to service them (HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Overload

As we saw with net neutrality, Pai likes to bend reality to fit his ideological agenda (aka sophistry), instead of letting facts inform policy.

I think Techdirt invented sophistry, and is incredibly creative and long winded in defending it.

Just watch. Censorship and sophistry. Tools of the Techdirt trade.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Overload

I think Techdirt invented sophistry

What?! I had no idea Techdirt was so famous! To think Techdirt first started in 14th century France and has been around for hundreds of years. Now that’s staying power.

Here’s hoping they’ll be around for another few hundred years.

P.S. Congratulations Mike Masnick on your 700th birthday!

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

He probably wanted to get rid of it because someone told him the program was called “Obama Phones”.

This is literally why conservatives on social media turned against it a few years ago and started making a fuss about the program. Because of a Youtube video of a poor person who used the subsidy for their cell phone calling it an ‘Obama Phone’, even though Reagan started the program.

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