New FCC Broadband 'Advisory Panel' Stocked With Telecom Consultants, Allies & Cronies

from the parade-of-yes-men dept

On the one hand, FCC boss Ajit Pai proclaims to be a man dedicated to hard data, transparency, and closing the digital divide. But we've repeatedly highlighted how his public rhetoric is miles from his actual policies, which by and large focus on making life easier than ever for the nation's entrenched, uncompetitive broadband mono/duopolies. From gutting broadband privacy and net neutrality protections, to protecting the cable industry's monopoly over the cable box, Pai's actions consistently reveal anti-competitive intent, while his words gracefully try to imply another, artificial artifice.

This stage play has apparently extended to Pai's creation of a new Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which at an event earlier this year the FCC insisted would provide the agency 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."

Laying the blame for the broadband industry's issues exclusively on "regulatory barriers" is already a telltale bit of over-simplification. While there certainly are some regulations that could be streamlined to improve broadband deployment (like utility pole attachment rules), the real problems in the industry have a notably larger origin: namely entrenched duopolists that relentlessly lobby government to help keep real, vibrant competition at bay. These lobbying tendrils run deep, with ISPs using hired academics, economists, PR reps and consultants all with one goal: protect the profitable, but often anti-consumer and dysfunctional status quo.

In a speech (pdf) given earlier this year, Pai proclaimed that his new advisory panel would be "forward-looking and fair, balancing the legitimate interests of municipalities with the ever-growing demands of the American public for better, faster, and cheaper broadband." Odd, then, that the Daily Beast recently dug through the panel and found that 28 of the 30 panel members have direct financial ties to telecom operators:

"Instead the FCC loaded the 30-member panel with corporate executives, trade groups and free-market scholars. More than three out of four seats on the BDAC are filled by business-friendly representatives from the biggest wireless and cable companies such as AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp., Sprint Corp., and TDS Telecom. Crown Castle International Corp., the nation’s largest wireless infrastructure company, and Southern Co., the nation’s second-largest utility firm, have representatives on the panel. Also appointed to the panel were broadband experts from conservative think tanks who have been critical of FCC regulations such as the International Center for Law and Economics and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University."

In other words, not so much a "balanced" group of diverse stakeholders as much as an echo chamber filled with industry allies who'll all happily stay on message, working in polite unison at reducing oversight and accountability for one of the most regulatory captured, least competitive markets in America. And while it's important to have companies on the panel that have expertise building large networks, so too is it important to have an equal weight given to consumer activists, objective external experts, and folks that operate outside of the box when it comes to improving American connectivity.

Like Gary Carter, who runs one of the oldest municipal broadband networks in America (in Santa Monica, California). Carter says he was one of several representatives of municipal broadband providers hoping to be chosen for the panel, since they have a unique perspective on connecting communities incumbent ISPs have long refused to. But Carter says when he called the FCC to check up on the panel member selection process, he was literally laughed at:

“When I called [the FCC] to check on the status of the BDAC selection process [earlier this year] and identified myself as an employee from the City of Santa Monica, the gentleman on the phone laughed hysterically,” Carter said. “At first I didn’t get the joke. When I saw the appointees for the municipal working group—only three out of 24 positions were from local government—I got the joke.”

You'll of course recall that incumbent ISPs have worked tirelessly to pass protectionist state laws in more than twenty states hamstringing local communities' ability to build their own networks or work with private partners. Why? They don't want to serve many of these areas -- but they don't want anybody else to either -- lest it ultimately blossom into something that resembles competition and challenges their regional monopolies. As such, including municipal broadband builders on the panel might just raise questions Pai and friends aren't particularly interested in answering.

So again, while Pai's rhetoric consistently focuses on his supposed dedication to the digital divide, in practice he's simply engaging in wave after wave of anti-innovation, anti-competitive, and anti-consumer policies, then surrounding himself with industry allies who'll do little more than pat him on the back for his remarkable "leadership." Pai's going to promise this all ends with miraculous innovation and broadband expansion, but the history lessons we like to ignore suggest it's more likely the net result will simply be more apathetic companies like Comcast, with zero competitive or regulatory incentive to improve.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 14 Aug 2017 @ 6:29am

    We've secretly replaced the board with members we hope will sing our praises for handing them customers to abuse at will when it comes time for us to leave office & land a cushy gig with one of them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 14 Aug 2017 @ 7:11am

      Re:

      'Secretly'?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 14 Aug 2017 @ 8:58am

        Re: Re:

        Yes secretly. We closed our eyes, crossed our fingers, held our breath, made the selections, then opened our eyes, uncrossed our fingers and breathed normally while we made our announcement. Then we re-closed our eyes, recrossed our fingers and and took a deep breath to hold while the nation was being discombobulated with our secret deception.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 14 Aug 2017 @ 2:11pm

      Re:

      We've secretly replaced the board with sand and ground up clam shells. Let's see if anyone notices.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Toom1275 (profile), 14 Aug 2017 @ 4:15pm

        Re: Re:

        Hey, why did the board suddenly stop trying to screw us all over? Something smells (literally) fishy...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 14 Aug 2017 @ 4:20pm

        Re: Re:

        Wouldn't take long, neither of those substances would be likely to spend much time gushing about how awesome american broadband is, how the companies involved are beloved by everyone who isn't a puppy-punting communist jaywalker and how the less rules that might hamper profits the better for everyone.

        The 'Advisory Panel' on the other hand...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    FCC.OVerlord, 14 Aug 2017 @ 6:45am

    muhahaha

    waaaa and what ya gonna do about it girly boys

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Aug 2017 @ 7:13am

      Re: muhahaha

      "what ya gonna do about it girly boys"

      Support giving you FCC folks more power under the guise of net neutrality and ask that your protect us like you always have.

      It's a win-win-win... The FCC gets more regulatory power, the Telco's still keep buying politicians, regulators, loopholes and stacking the deck, and the citizens get a bigger more shinier new cross to nail themselves to while they foot the bill for ALL of it!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Aug 2017 @ 7:22am

      Re: muhahaha

      You bend over too easily.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Aug 2017 @ 10:30am

      Re: muhahaha

      Join in on chanting "Blood And Soil" and learn to love our god in the white house?
      Join Occupy Wall Street and learn to love Bernie-boy?

      It would be an interesting angle to have a politician run on indicting ie. FCC and USTR for corruption and crimes against the nation. But both parties would go down in flames on that one, so that will never be possible as a political platform. The closest you can get are probably Elisabeth Warren and Rand Paul, but even they are rather moderate on the federal agencies shortcomings.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TripMN, 14 Aug 2017 @ 6:54am

    Looking at history, the big ISPs are probably hoping they can get the taxpayers to throw another few billion in subsidies and tax breaks toward them to build out the remaining infrastructure that they promised but didn't build the last time a lot of money was thrown at them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 14 Aug 2017 @ 7:39am

      Re:

      To be fair, that money BARELY covered executive bonuses with enough left for a Christmas party! Next time, make the payout BIGGER and we might actually have enough left over to do something.

      ;)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    CaesarAlan, 14 Aug 2017 @ 7:54am

    "it's more likely the net result will simply be more apathetic companies like Comcast, with zero competitive or regulatory incentive to improve"

    Given the likelihood of yet more mega-mergers, surely the most likely outcome is FEWER apathetic companies like Comcast...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 14 Aug 2017 @ 8:23am

    artificial artifice

    I'm going to have to report you to the Department of Redundancy Department for that one...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    YaTOoG, 14 Aug 2017 @ 9:24am

    You spelled "Stacked" wrong...

    New FCC Broadband 'Advisory Panel' Stacked With Telecom Consultants, Allies & Cronies

    TFTFY

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Aug 2017 @ 9:44am

    /s/overly-simplification/over-simplification

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chip, 14 Aug 2017 @ 10:01am

    Told you so, all regulations bad, I love paint hcips, I never said all regulations were bad, etc. Did I miss any? Oh yeah, I have offered Lots and Lots of Solutions!

    Every Nation eatst he Paint chis it Deserves!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 14 Aug 2017 @ 2:17pm

    How about removing the internal corporate barriers (pockets) so ISPs can deploy broadband like they promised to do, were subsidized to do, and make more than enough money (even if they didn't charge ridiculously high rates with additional bs "charges") to do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Aug 2017 @ 3:10pm

    All of this is theatrics that are just leading to an inevitable court case when Pai moves to gut net neutrality. Can we just skip to the main event?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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