WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement suggesting he will not reverse his Feb. 3 decision to revoke the Lifeline Broadband Provider status of nine internet service providers. He relied on a misread of the law to argue that states and not the FCC bear the primary responsibility for determining which providers are eligible to participate in the Lifeline broadband program.
Pai’s Feb. 3 decision met with an outcry from nearly 40 digital inclusion advocacy organizations, including the American Library Association, the Center for Media Justice, Free Press, the NAACP, the United Church of Christ Office of Communication Inc., the National Consumer Law Center and the National Hispanic Media Coalition. In response to the backlash, Pai issued a call for public comments. His statement today, issued only six days after the reply-comment filing date, makes it clear he has not taken those comments into serious consideration.
Free Press Deputy Director and Senior Counsel Jessica J. González made the following statement:
“Chairman Pai claims that he cares about expanding affordable internet access but hides behind misguided legal theories to slow down Lifeline modernization. He talks the talk on the need to bridge the digital divide but fails to walk the walk.
“Pai is an administrator, not a judge. But he’s acted as judge, jury and jailer for millions of struggling families, bypassing the courts and the regular FCC processes to remove affordable broadband options for poor people.
“The FCC’s narrow decision in the Lifeline Modernization Order — to preempt states from designating carriers that offer only broadband internet access service — is supported by statute, properly respects the separation of powers and serves a compelling public-policy interest to increase the number of Lifeline broadband providers. Broadband internet access service is inherently an interstate service, not one that’s subject to state jurisdiction. The FCC rightly established and should implement its Lifeline Broadband Provider designation process for broadband-only providers.
“The digital divide means that millions of families — in particular Black and Brown communities — are missing out on essential opportunities. Pai should focus on serving those communities instead of creating more barriers to getting them online.”