FCC Commissioner Legally Tasked With Bringing Broadband To All Americans Doesn't Think Broadband's All That Important
from the you're-really-not-helping dept
More recently, the FCC has been considering revamping the $1.7 billion Lifeline program, which was created by the Reagan administration in 1985 and expanded by Bush in 2005 to help bring phone services to low-income Americans. Despite being a Republican proposal, it's frequently mocked (even by reporters) as being part of the "Obamaphone" program thanks to the nation's ongoing case of partisan nitwit disease. The FCC's initiative involves letting the program's 1.2 million participants use some of the whopping $9.25 monthly discount (per household) they receive each month on broadband instead of just voice. Really, it's not all that controversial, especially in the context of bigger budget government issues.
Yet while the contextually-more immense subject of military and intelligence funding is apparently immune to this type of criticism, the very notion of using taxpayer funds to aid the less fortunate fostered the usual amount of hand-wringing and assorted hysteria. Not all of it was without justification given the FCC's utterly shitty history of policing USF fraud. But after a fifteen year nap, more consumer-minded FCC boss Tom Wheeler has been cracking down on fraud, even if some of the fines being levied are relatively pathetic. Still, a big part of this new proposal involves cracking down on fraud further.
But even if you oppose subsidies to the poor (which I don't agree with but can understand), one still needs to answer the question of how we improve broadband competition, penetration, and deployment to the estimated 55 million Americans without broadband and the countless others stuck in uncompetitive markets. To illustrate the importance of this conversation, Wheeler several times has tried to argue that we're reaching the point where broadband needs to be thought of as a basic human right. This isn't that new or controversial either, really. Finland declared broadband a human right five years ago (and you'll note they lead many broadband performance metrics). The UN declared broadband a human right in 2011.
O'Rielly apparently takes deep offense at the use of such terminology:
"It is important to note that Internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn’t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right," he said. "People can and do live without Internet access, and many lead very successful lives."And while that's not necessarily wrong (broadband provides no phytonutrients or Omega-3 fatty acids, after all), broadband is increasingly a vital tool to connect people to health care, employment data, government services and everything else under the sun, making it pretty god-damned important. Whether broadband should be thought of as a necessity, utility and luxury has always caused endless, idiotic hyperbolic debate in the telecom sector. Why? Because if you consider broadband essential, you then have to then reconcile the fact that we've done a horrible job at trying to expand and improve it, whether that's through incentives, public/private partnership or policies that encourage competition (all of which O'Rielly opposes).
So, as somebody that just wants the miraculous U.S. broadband free market to remain as is (expensive, slow, generally kind of shitty) to help shore up some inflexible and unrealistic political beliefs, O'Rielly's quick to declare the idea of broadband as a human right "demeaning":
"It is even more ludicrous to compare Internet access to a basic human right," said O'Rielly. "In fact, it is quite demeaning to do so in my opinion. Human rights are standards of behavior that are inherent in every human being. They are the core principles underpinning human interaction in society. These include liberty, due process or justice, and freedom of religious beliefs. I find little sympathy with efforts to try to equate Internet access with these higher, fundamental concepts."And that's great and all, but O'Rielly's not sitting on the Supreme Court or teaching a Constitutional ethics class. He's employed by an agency that has, as one of its Congressionally-mandated goals, the responsibility to "encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans." That's something we've failed at by any measure (unless you're blinded by politics, employed by an ISP or paid by an ISP to look the other way). And again, if you're going to oppose subsidy programs like Lifeline, you at least need to support or recommend policies that can help drive more competition and services to areas with a low rate of return on the ISPs' investment.
Except O'Rielly's done none of that. What he's done is sit on his hands, opposing essentially every attempt to shore up broadband connectivity that shows up on the docket. He's voted against raising the definition of broadband to 25 Mbps. He's voted against stopping giant ISPs from writing state laws that protect regional duopolies. He's even voted against fining AT&T for blatantly lying to its customers. O'Rielly's MO is to shut down every proposal that comes down the pike (including many that can help consumers), then proudly pat himself on the back for being a hero of the American public. That suggests he's probably the very last person we should be asking when it comes to determining what technology is or isn't absolutely necessary.