Pai's FCC Crushes Rules That Brought More Broadband Competition To San Francisco
from the look-mom-I'm-helping dept
While many appointments of the Trump administration lack even marginal competence to complete the duties for which they’re assigned, the same can’t be said of FCC boss Ajit Pai. While Pai’s industry-cozy policies may be historically unpopular, the efficiency with which Pai has dismantled telecom consumer protections (and FCC authority in general) can’t be denied. Having been a vanilla commissioner for years before being appointed agency head, Pai knows precisely which rules to demolish–and how to obtain the maximum benefit for his core constituents: AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Charter Spectrum.
Gutting net neutrality, killing efforts to bring competition to the cable box, even weakening the definition of competition to aid industry incumbents are but a taste of what Pai has been up to the last few years. Many of these efforts are subtle enough to fall under the radar, even if the impact of the decisions are profoundly negative. Case in point: last week, the FCC announced that the agency would soon vote on whether to preempt a San Francisco city ordinance designed to promote broadband competition in apartments, condos, and other multi-unit buildings.
Article 52, first passed in December of 2016, allows ISPs to use existing building wiring to serve customers, even if it’s being used by another ISP. The ruling effectively created an “open access” model inside of San Francisco buildings to help drive a bit more broadband competition. Part of the provision prevents landlords from signing exclusivity deals with incumbent ISPs, something that’s been a problem (one the FCC refused to seriously address) for decades (there’s a great primer on this here by Susan Crawford).
Enter Ajit Pai, whose new proposal would pre-empt San Francisco’s ordinance as a favor to industry incumbents who don’t like the added competition. And, like so many things Pai does (the “restoring internet freedom” net neutrality repeal comes quickly to mind), his office tried to claim the proposal does the exact opposite of what it actually does:
“Despite its primary goal of eliminating a rule that gives ISPs access to multi-unit buildings, Pai’s proposal is titled, “Improving Competitive Broadband Access to Multi-Tenant Environments.” In addition to immediately preempting the San Francisco ordinance, the proposal seeks public comment on other “actions the Commission could take to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks and services within” multi-tenant complexes. Any further rule changes coming from this proceeding likely wouldn’t involve sharing of infrastructure, as the Pai plan argues that ISPs “are less likely to invest in deployment” if they know they have to share network components with other providers.”
Of course after Pai loves to trot out claims that something will “boost sector investment,” even if we’ve already seen how those promises are just hot air designed to obfuscate the real agenda: protecting incumbent ISP revenues from absolutely any competitive challenge. This shtick where ISPs lobby for “pre-emptive” federal guidelines is also fairly common. The broader rules they lobby for almost always wind up having so many loopholes as to be useless, because the entire point was to pre-empt tougher local or state ordinances lobbyists didn’t want. It lets you kill policies off you don’t like–without making it obvious that’s what you’re doing.
Consumer groups, like the EFF, were unsurprisingly unimpressed:
All of you that do not live in San Francisco, let me tell you.
People pay $40 a month for gigabit fiber service here and we have a small handful of not Comcast/AT&T ISPs that compete for customers thanks to the SF ordinance.
That's the "problem" the FCC is trying to fix. https://t.co/P2yUK3rR69
— Ernesto Falcon (@EFFFalcon) June 18, 2019
While efforts like this see little to no press coverage (in part because Pai’s good at disguising policies as the opposite of what they actually are), the cumulative impact of Pai’s tenure will, ultimately, be profound and severe. But because it’s going to be felt most by lower income folks already struggling to get and pay for broadband, it will net a fraction of the attention reserved for numerous other tech policy conversations.