Pai FCC Tours The Country Promising Better Rural Broadband, But His Policies Routinely Undermine That Goal

from the watch-what-I-do,-not-what-I-say dept

You may have noticed that FCC boss Ajit Pai likes to breathlessly and repeatedly proclaim that one of his top priorities while chair of the FCC is to “close the digital divide.” Pai, who clearly harbors post-FCC political aspirations, can usually be found touring the nation’s least-connected states declaring that he’s working tirelessly to shore up broadband connectivity and competition nationwide. On trip after taxpayer funded trip, both Pai and his fellow commissioners tell audiences his policies are expanding high-speed internet access and closing the digital divide to create jobs and increase digital opportunity.

Several times a month, some small local paper can be found unquestioningly hyping Pai and his fellow commissioners’ “digital opportunity tour.” Like this recent piece on FCC Commissioner Branden Carr’s trip to Alaska, or this piece on Pai’s recent visit to Vermont, where Pai once again repeated his (false) claim that gutting sector oversight (and net neutrality) will somehow magically result in better broadband in these historically neglected areas:

“A little rain did not stop Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai from climbing into a bucket loader and being hoisted to the top of a wireless hotspot in Springfield, Vermont, Wednesday…Pai says a free and open internet is in everyone’s best interests. He says if the little guys are successful, competition goes up and costs go down. “So our hope going forward is that consumers would continue to be protected and the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, we are going to have much more infrastructure improvements than we have had in the past few years,” Pai said.

Usually, the Commissioner is portrayed as folksy, relatable, and genuinely interested in making things better:

“I come from a very rural part of Kansas where there isn’t a lot of connectivity. Some of the people who move there do move there just to get away from it all, as it were. Our goal is to get you wifi whether you want it or not,” Pai joked. “No, I’m just kidding, our [goal] is to make sure every American who wants internet access is able to get it. So if you don’t want it, great, but, at least when I travel around, I’ve met many, many people who are desperate for it. We want to make sure that kind of connectivity that we often take for granted in some of the bigger cities extends to those off-the-beaten-path places.”

And that would be great…if the Pai FCC’s policies actually reflected those statements. Perhaps Pai truly does believe that he’s single-handedly curing the digital divide by giving industry giants like Comcast and AT&T every policy win they’ve ever dreamed of. But in reality Pai’s policies continue to run in stark contrast to his stated goal of more competition, lower prices, and broader broadband availability.

For example last week the FCC quietly voted to cap spending on programs actually designed to bring broadband connectivity to the parts of the country that private ISPs don’t deem profitable enough:

“Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed a new spending cap on the FCC’s Universal Service programs that deploy broadband to poor people and to rural and other underserved areas.

Pai reportedly circulated the proposal to fellow commissioners on Tuesday, meaning it will be voted upon behind closed doors instead of in an open meeting. Pai has not released the proposal publicly, but it was described in a Politico report Wednesday, and an FCC official confirmed the proposal’s details to Ars.”

And a relentless Pai target has been the FCC’s Lifeline program, an effort started by Reagan and expanded by Bush that long enjoyed bipartisan support until the post-truth era rolled into town. Lifeline doles out 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. He’s been attacking the program ever since.

There are endless other examples of Pai policies doing the exact opposite of what he promises during his town-to-town PR tours, yet none of these are reflected in any of the local coverage of these taxpayer-funded junkets.

The repeal of net neutrality and FCC privacy rules, for example, opens the door to the nickel-and-diming of consumers that already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for broadband. Pai’s attacks on efforts to improve cable box competition ensure your cable box remains both closed and expensive to rent. Pai’s FCC also recently gutted a program designed to make rural broadband more affordable in tribal areas, though the courts recently killed that effort after showcasing Pai’s arguments weren’t factually supportable.

Elsewhere, Pai’s FCC has literally tried to weaken the definition of “competition,” in a bid to obfuscate broadband deployment and competition shortcomings at behest of industry. And his agency can often be found demonizing community broadband efforts, which are an organic, local response to the private sector’s obvious failure to uniformly deploy broadband across the country. This is all when Pai’s FCC isn’t busy protecting prison phone monopolies or gutting decades old media consolidation rules intended to protect diverse, local reporting.

The lion’s share of Pai’s policies support one real agenda: protecting the nation’s biggest companies from disruption, competition, or accountability. It’s not really debatable. Yet thanks to the slow and steady erosion of quality local reporting, not a week goes by where Pai isn’t featured by some fluffy local PR piece that ignores all of this and portrays Pai as a “folksy” champion for a digital divide. Even though the lion’s share of the FCC boss’ policies are making many of these problems notably worse.

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Comments on “Pai FCC Tours The Country Promising Better Rural Broadband, But His Policies Routinely Undermine That Goal”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If they’re just repeating whatever someone tells them, is it really fair to call them ‘press’/’reporters’? At that point they’re basically free PR stooges for anyone important, and it seems it would be unfair to actual reporters who do investigate statements/stories before writing up an article to lump in said stooges with them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why in the world does Pai and his FCC need to tour the nation? What is the point? They could save us all a lot of money and just do a few press conferences. Unless he’s prepping to run for elected office what possible reason could he have for doing meet-and-greets? It sounds totally politically motivated, the kind of thing only an election candidate would do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lies, Lies, and Damn Lies

I used to think that politicians at least ‘tried’ to do some of the things they promise they are going to do, but now I know that it’s all just a load of horse puckey…

They all know they can LIE, LIE, LIE and make promises that they never intend to keep ("drain the swamp") and they will NEVER be held accountable… If things to get to the point where people actually question them, then "Fake News, Fake News" is the answer.

The sad fact is that while a person may be smart, people are dumb, no matter what you repeat, if you do it often enough and with enough confidence, generally at least half the people will believe you… If you keep repeating it often enough, eventually even some of the others who objected at first may actually believe it (if they don’t have other sources that are providing the truth… which is the other reason the corporations are trying to monopolize the communication methods as well as adding increased survelience to everything from your watch to your refrigerator.

Who knew 1984 was a corporate manifesto???

Anonymous Coward says:


Our goal is to get you wifi whether you want it or not," Pai joked.

How sure are we that he’s joking? I wouldn’t be surprised if his plan for rural internet is a WRT54G on a water tower and a bunch of Pringles-can antennas. It’s better than any plan I’ve heard him describe so far, and not far off from what we see in rural areas now.

ECA (profile) says:

Bored of Mr. Pai..

"tell audiences his policies are expanding high-speed internet access and closing the digital divide to create jobs and increase digital opportunity. "

The only jobs we will get is bill collecting and Selling cable/Sat access…Who thinks Sat Internet is worth much??
Why isnt he doing his JOB, and hiring people, to wonder around checking the connections..Asking people how good it is, and use OWN hardware to CHECK the end points in the system. Then they could Make a REAL map, Check the Speed at the end points, dependability OF those connections..

What is the FCC Budget?? how many persons working and wages?? Why is it I think the FCC is a bunch of Chiefs and NO INDIANS..

That One Guy (profile) says:

National fame just waiting...

I’d love it if an actual reporter were on-site for one of these events, prepared with evidence showing how utterly dishonest Pai’s claims are and willing to call him on them on live tv.

Watching the head of the FCC called, and demonstrated to be, the liar that he is would be ever so satisfying, and you can be sure that anyone with the spine to do so would gain some hefty attention from any reporting agency interested in reporters willing to ask question of those in power.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: National fame just waiting...

I suspect that if he had police remove someone for simply for calling him a liar and providing evidence of it(assuming the police would even bother doing so) that that would make it even worse for him, and provide a perfect ‘here is what Pai is so afraid to have public he’s willing to have his critics removed for saying’ opportunity that any decent reporter would jump on.

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