Former FCC Broadband Advisory Panel Chair Arrested For Fraud

from the this-seems-to-be-going-well dept

For a few months now we've been noting how a "broadband deployment advisory panel" (BDAC) the FCC created to "solve the digital divide" has been plagued by scandal, resignation, and accusations of corruption. The panel was created last year to purportedly advise the Trump FCC on the best approach(es) to improving broadband cost and availability. But it didn't take long for reports to emerge that the panel was little more than a who's who of entrenched telecom industry interests, and since its creation its been plagued by a steady stream of disgruntled departures.

This week, Pai's panel made headlines again after reports emerged indicating that the woman Pai picked to chair the panel has been arrested for defrauding investors as part of a fiber network deployment con:

"Elizabeth Ann Pierce, who served as CEO of Quintillion Networks LLC , allegedly convinced two investment companies that the firm had secured contracts for a high-speed fiber-optic system that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in future revenue, the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office and FBI said Thursday. The system was pitched as one that would provide service in Alaska and connect it to the lower 48 states, authorities said.

“As it turned out, those sales agreements were worthless because the customers had not signed them,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in prepared remarks. “Instead, as alleged, Pierce had forged counterparty signatures on contract after contract. As a result of Pierce’s deception, the investment companies were left with a system that is worth far less than Pierce had led them to believe."

Ajit Pai had proclaimed that he had an "excellent and deep pool of applicants to serve on the BDAC," when he announced (pdf) Pierce's appointment last year. Apparently that well wasn't quite deep enough. The disgraced executive was appointed by Pai in April, resigned her Quintillion CEO spot in August, and had resigned from the BDAC by September.

But Pierce's arrest is only the latest chapter on the problems with Pai's advisory council. Earlier this year, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo penned a letter saying he'd be resigning from the panel, claiming in his resignation letter (pdf) that not only does the panel exist almost exclusively to help prop up the interests of incumbent ISPs, but it hadn't actually accomplished a single item of note in terms of helping improve broadband competition or availability:

"It has become abundantly clear that despite the good intentions of several participants, the industry-heavy makeup of BDAC will simply relegate the body to being a vehicle for advancing the interests of the telecommunications industry over those of the public...after nine months of deliberation, negotiation, and discussion, we’ve made no progress toward a single proposal that will actually further the goal of equitable broadband deployment."

Liccardo's complaints were mirrored by a similar, late March resignation letter by New York City CTO Miguel Gamiño Jr. And they were also mirrored by complaints from community broadband groups like the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), who say the panel is actively undermining community-driven attempts to improve the nation's broadband connectivity:

"The audacity and impropriety of the process is clear from the fact that this entity, comprised primarily of corporate and carrier interests, is empowered by the Commission to develop model codes that could potentially impact every locality and state in the United States without any serious input from the communities it will most affect."

In more rural areas with a tepid ROI community broadband and public/private partnerships are often the best creative solutions to the broadband monopoly logjam. But because giant ISPs fear competition and folks like Ajit Pai are blindly, ideologically opposed to even working closely with local governments, the FCC is now actively undermining such efforts. Pai has routinely supported ISP-crafted protectionist state laws in 21 states that hamstring communities looking to build their own networks, even in areas ISPs refuse to.

In other words, much like his boss, Ajit Pai says one thing then immediately does another; he breathlessly professes to be "fixing" problems he's actually making worse, and is leaving a trail of dysfunction and grumbling in his wake.

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