For Chairman Pai, Closing the Digital Divide Is Code for More Tax Breaks for Huge ISPs

Contact Info: 

Timothy Karr, 201-533-8838

WASHINGTON — FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a statement on Tuesday defending the agency’s decision to deny Lifeline benefits to nine small internet access providers serving low-income communities around the country.

The rollback of Lifeline was one of a number of decisions FCC bureaus released last Friday at Pai’s direction. Each was released without a public proceeding or bipartisan input from the agency’s other commissioners.

In his statement today, Pai again claimed that he’s intent on “doing everything within the FCC’s power to close the digital divide.” However, the Washington Post reported that Pai’s move against Lifeline will have the opposite effect for the many families and students with low incomes who were in line to receive affordable connections from the providers denied access to the program.    

Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood made the following statement:

“Chairman Pai thinks he can set the record straight with more crooked words and made-up numbers. Like his boss in the White House, Pai should spend less time worrying about his media coverage and more time on his job. And his job is not to cheerlead for more corporate welfare for the biggest internet access providers in the form of tax breaks for their existing deployment plans. His job is to bring the benefits of open networks to all, something he’s failing at so far.

“Pai can dissemble all he wants, but the reality is that last Friday he alone took the promise of free high-speed access away from low-income workers, students, veterans and tribal communities around the country. His disdain for the Lifeline program is reflected in his defensive comments, a clear indication that he will make every effort to dismantle the FCC’s 2016 modernization order and delay its benefits.

“Chairman Pai’s track record here betrays his phony commitment to digital equity. In 2014, he trashed the FCC’s E-rate modernization, but in less than three years these changes have brought fiber-optic and Wi-Fi services to thousands of additional schools, cutting the number of students without adequate access in half, all without an increase in the per-student cost. Pai was wrong about E-rate modernization then, and he’s wrong about Lifeline modernization now.

“Unfortunately the people who desperately need affordable access will suffer the most from Pai’s mistakes. These people include thousands of students from low-income families in more than 40 states who benefit from the Lifeline program via federal subsidies offered to educational access provider Kajeet. On Friday, Pai stripped Kajeet of its Lifeline-provider designation. Denying needy students access to broadband is a funny way of fulfilling the chairman’s disingenuous claim that closing the digital divide will be his top priority at the FCC.”

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