Ajit Pai's Cure For The 'Digital Divide' Looks Suspiciously Like A Giant Middle Finger

from the ill-communication dept

FCC boss Ajit Pai likes to 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 often be found touring the nation's least-connected states proclaiming that he's working tirelessly to shore up broadband connectivity and competition nationwide. More often than not, Pai can be found somewhere in flyover country "highlighting how expanding high-speed internet access and closing the digital divide can create jobs and increase digital opportunity."

And that would be great... if he was doing anything to actually accomplish that goal.

While Pai's best known for ignoring the public and making shit up to dismantle net neutrality, his other policies have proven to be less sexy but just as terrible. From neutering plans to improve cable box competition to a wide variety of what are often senseless attacks on smaller competitors, most of Pai's policies are driving up costs for the rural Americans he so breathlessly pledges fealty to.

For example, a guy that's actually trying to improve competition wouldn't be taking steps to hide that lack of competition by weakening broadband availability standards. Similarly, a politician actually focused on improving broadband connectivity to rural areas wouldn't be actively dismantling programs specifically designed to accomplish that goal.

One of Pai's biggest targets 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.

Some of the most-frequently ignored in the battle for better connectivity are native populations and tribal areas. Under Chairman Ajit Pai's "leadership," the FCC voted 3-2 last November to eliminate a $25 additional Lifeline subsidy for low-income native populations on tribal land. As part of Pai's effort he also banned smaller mobile carriers from participating in the Lifeline program, a move opposed by even the larger companies (Verizon, AT&T) that stand to benefit.

Small wireless carriers and several tribal organizations subsequently sued the FCC (pdf) in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, noting the FCC "failed to engage affected tribal governments" ahead of the rule changes. Tribal leaders also filed a petition (pdf) claiming Pai's multi-pronged attack on Lifeline would only make it harder to connect tribal lands to the internet:

"The Order on review adopted new restrictions on the provision of enhanced support that threaten the fundamental viability of the Lifeline program in many tribal areas. As relevant to Crow Creek’s petition, the Order would limit the availability of enhanced support to facilities-based carriers only, thereby excluding MVNOs from the tribal Lifeline program. Once the rule takes effect, MVNOs will be eligible to receive only $9.25 in support for service provided on tribal lands, an amount that the Commission already determined is woefully insufficient to ensure that low-income American Indians have access to telecommunications."

And while tribal leaders had petitioned the FCC to stay its decision pending the appeal, the FCC last week unsurprisingly rejected that request. Much like opponents of Pai's net neutrality repeal, tribal leaders say the FCC violated laws like the Administrative Procedures Act by reversing existing policy without truly consulting those impacted and without basing the decision on, you know, hard, substantive data:

"The Commission failed to engage affected tribal governments prior to adopting the MVNO exclusion as required by its own policies, the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and laws governing the relationship between the federal government and federally recognized American Indian tribes."

That's curious for a guy that tries so hard to portray himself as a bosom buddy to marginalized communities trying to obtain affordable internet in the Comcast era. But again, it's not surprising if you watched Pai ignore the fact that a massive, bipartisan coalition of Americans telling him his net neutrality repeal was a terrible, counter-productive policy.

While the telecom industry is certainly no stranger to subsidy fraud and waste, the Lifeline program -- which you generally only qualify for if you're living near the poverty line -- has generally been agreed upon as the very least we can do to help the downtrodden get connected to the internet. Pai prattles on ad nauseum about his dedication to closing the digital divide, and so far has faced few repercussions for the fact his policies will actively make the problem worse. Especially since it couldn't be any clearer that Pai intends to do absolutely nothing about the lack of competition that sits at the heart of this dysfunction.


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  1. icon
    ECA (profile), 12 Jul 2018 @ 11:04am

    For some odd reasoning..

    This person is beating up the FCC for the wrong reasons.

    http://www.allgov.com/departments/independent-agencies/federal-communications-commission-fcc ?agencyid=7325
    Something stands out in this article..

    Perspective: Why the FCC should die (by Declan McCullagh, CNet)
    and WHY to kill the FCC.

    Yes it has Problems..And it would be nice to FIX THINGS, but what he is doing ISNT helping.
    ANd he should be AT HIS JOB, watching what is happening. Because it has started.
    The BACKBONE has many uses and all of them are for communication..but 1 of them is an emergency service to the Whole of this nation. So that 1 end of the country, in emergency can CONTACT the rest of the country.

    The WHOLE system has been subsidized from 1 end to the other. The only reason the Corps have anything is to let Corps Fix, maintain, and keep up the ENDS of the line.

    The Net and all the ends have been paid and PAID FOR, so many times..Corps dont update anything until its paid for 1000 times, they SEE PROFIT, Or the Gov. pays for it.

    Before REAL ACCESS TO THE NET..
    The End points had VERY LITTLE in hardware installed to handle EVERY PERSON.. They did their math and found that at NO TIME was more then 6% being used...so they set it to be 6% usage. Then things HIT..
    Main lines in all the cities had to be UPDATED.
    ALL the hardware had to be updated to handle MORE, then 6%.
    56k SUCKED.. ANd high speed of the time (look up ISDN, you can still get it, if you are rich) WAS EXPENSIVE..still is. Its limited in Local, and requires installation charges you would NOT LIKE..

    So they had to install MORE..
    And Advances are made and AGAIN, they are tired of UPGRADING.. All they want to do is collect the money.

    Cellphone, Phones, Internet, cable tv, Sat, and a few others are ALL OWNED at the ends, by the corps..
    Pushing for the cheapest service..ISNT going to help much. Wireless has allot of problems you may not know about.
    #1(is very big) There are no privacy laws installed to protect WIRELESS, as there are for WIRED PHONES..
    If you think they are advanced tech...THEY ARE NOT.

    To understand tech and corps..
    You need to remember..If you make it Complicated or advanced, you MAKE IT COMPLICATED TO USE, and need LOTS MORE hardware to use it..
    Go look up the OLD 25 pin(db25 plug) parallel port, there are 3 different interfaces on that port, and if you KNEW what you were doing, you could make it do GREAT things(and we did) and it was great until we got 10mbps Network connections.

    Updating hardware IN THE OLD days was pretty simple..we didnt Need to change the WHOLE mother board as ALL the components, from Audio, network, serial ports, everything was on Boards you ADDED..
    If 1 things changed, you changed a board. NOT the Mobo, CPU, RAM, and the power supply if you need.
    In the PAST, IF' we upgraded there was a MAJOR CHANGE..to the whole hardware system..the difference in a 25mhz and 33mhz processor was nothing to worry about..THEN the 50mhz came out we changed a CPU(most times that was all) and kept going. NOW every cpu is a 1% increase, and your computer was obsolete before you bought it..
    ALSO, there is so much CRAP out there that is OLD, the odds of buying a P4 is very high, and almost 10 years late. i still see Celerons running around.

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