FCC Vote Signals Agency's Refusal to Address the Digital Divide During Pandemic and Beyond
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission’s Republican majority, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, voted to entrench the agency’s earlier abandonment of its authority over broadband. Their decision claims to address three issues the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit raised in 2019 when it remanded critical parts of the FCC’s Net Neutrality repeal order and sent it back to the agency.
Specifically, the court called on the FCC to examine how its repeal of Net Neutrality rules and the agency’s abandonment of the strong legal authority it has in Title II of the Communications Act would impact the FCC’s ability in three key areas: promoting public safety, competitive-broadband infrastructure deployment and the agency’s efforts to expand the Lifeline subsidy program to support broadband affordability.
On each issue the agency once again prioritized its own thoroughly debunked claims that repealing Title II would promote broadband investment, favoring that fiction over the concerns of public-interest groups and the needs of nearly 80 million people in the United States who lack adequate home-broadband access during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Free Press Policy Manager Dana Floberg made the following statement:
“In its remand, the court gave Chairman Pai yet another opportunity to reverse course on his tremendously unpopular and statutorily suspect decisions. Pai and his Republican colleagues voted to scrap the agency’s Title II authority over broadband in the first place, and could and should have corrected that mistake in this order. But like a child caught in a lie, this chairman has instead doubled down.
“This remand order callously dismisses the valid concerns of public-safety officials, competitive broadband providers and millions of disconnected low-income families who can’t afford to get online. But Pai goes even further, insisting that if the agency’s decisions on these issues harm these constituencies, that harm is justified by the supposed benefits of repealing Title II.
“Let’s be really clear about this: Chairman Pai has admitted that he would rather deny low-income families support for broadband access through the Lifeline program than give up his ideological quest to stomp out the imaginary harms to industry from Title II. This is his agency’s response to a global pandemic that has exposed the digital divide with brutal clarity as tens of millions of people struggle without adequate broadband access to connect safely to remote learning, jobs and health care.
“And all for what? Supposed regulatory relief from the alleged burden of Title II — a burden that, contrary to claims from Pai and industry lobbyists, is not real and never actually decreased investment or deployment. In fact, broadband investment increased under Title II, and since Pai’s repeal, it has decreased. Approximately 92 percent of the fiber deployments made during Pai’s chairmanship were actually planned and announced during the last few years of the Obama administration, when Title II was securely in place.
“Chairman Pai is trading away critical public protections for a bag of magic beans, and a wink and a nod from cable lobbyists. We need public servants who will actually listen to people, consider the data and serve community needs instead of long-debunked ideologies.”