In 2014-15, a broad social movement won net neutrality, but that victory was taken away by the chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, under the Trump administration. President Biden, promising to restore net neutrality, appointed a favorable chairperson, Gigi Sohn, but his administration and Democrats in Congress failed to defend her from a successful attack by the Telecommunications industry. Clearing the FOG speaks with Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, about the current campaign to push for a new FCC commissioner, what is behind the assault on Tik Tok, including a dangerous piece of legislation called the RESTRICT Act, and how corporations are using facial recognition technology for their own agendas.
Remember Ajit Pai, the former Verizon lawyer Trump put in charge of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)? When he gutted net neutrality rules and kneecapped the agency’s ability to regulate telecom monopolies, voters from across the political spectrum were outraged. The internet erupted in protest. Millions of people from across the political spectrum called their elected officials and submitted comments to the FCC, and thousands took to the streets. It was a rare moment of genuinely popular public revolt that defied partisan DC logic. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that we don’t want our cable or phone company screwing us over more than they already do, selling our browsing habits and real-time location to advertisers, or dictating what websites we can visit or which apps we use.
The Washington Post is reporting that Gigi Sohn, the Biden administration’s nominee for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will withdraw her nomination, after Democrats failed to stand up to an outrageous and bigoted smear campaign funded by the telecom industry. Sohn’s withdrawal plunges the Biden administration’s supposed priorities into peril: deadlocked at 2-2, the FCC will be unable to restore net neutrality, enforce privacy rules, or use its authority to protect the location data of people seeking or facilitating abortions.
Gigi Sohn was nominated by Joe Biden to fill the vacant fifth seat at the Federal Communications Commission in October of 2021, and renominated for a third time last month. Sohn is a veteran legal telecom expert, a fellow at Georgetown Law, co-founder of the group Public Knowledge, and for years an advisor to former FCC chair Tom Wheeler. Hundreds of groups, officials, companies—left, right and center—have publicly endorsed her. So why has her nomination languished? Therein lies the tale—a disheartening one of outsized corporate power and the denaturing of government’s public interest obligation, and of transparently scurrilous right-wing attacks, and lagging, inadequate response.
This month President Joe Biden renominated the highly qualified Sohn, whose confirmation has now been stalled for a record-breaking amount of time. With a 50/50 split in the Senate, Democrats had failed to muster enough support for a vote in the face of strong opposition from deep-pocketed big media corporations like Comcast. The FCC has been operating without a fifth member for well over a year, which has left it deadlocked with two Democratic and two Republican members. That’s great news for the telecom industry, which is enjoying the FCC’s inability to do things like restore net neutrality (which was implemented under Obama and repealed under Trump), ensure equal access to broadband, prevent further consolidation of big media, and crack down on wireless carriers’ abuse of private user location data.
Washington, DC — On Friday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling on federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission, to enact measures protecting internet users against the anti-competitive practices of large telecommunications and internet companies. In the order, Biden calls on the FCC to “restore Net Neutrality rules undone by the [Trump] administration.” In 2017, the agency under then-Chairman Ajit Pai repealed the Open Internet Order and abandoned the FCC’s jurisdiction over broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. Today’s executive order also calls on the FCC to require more transparency from broadband providers about their prices and terms of service, and to examine the impact of early termination fees and other punitive practices imposed on broadband customers.
Yesterday, Public Knowledge joined Access Humboldt, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Consumer Reports, and New America’s Open Technology Institute in filing comments in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Notice on the use of E-Rate funds to enable remote learning. Public Knowledge supports “off-campus” use of E-Rate funds to help students studying at home access the broadband they need to stay connected to classes, student services, and their families during the pandemic. The following can be attributed to Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs at Public Knowledge: “As the nation enters its 12th month of the COVID-19 pandemic, most schools remain closed or opened on a limited basis, making distance learning the primary means of educational instruction for many students.
As we documented in our previous three posts, the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) — FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s supposed crowning achievement toward closing the broadband digital divide — is looking more and more like one of the most wasteful projects in FCC history. Our first post gave some examples of questionable funding in urban areas that we stumbled upon after spending just a few minutes with the map of winning bidders. This included ridiculous examples of “rural” subsidies awarded to major ISPs to offer broadband in gated urban communities where they already offer service, and awards to bring broadband to a posh resort that is already well-connected.
The rollout of fiber broadband will never make it to many communities in the US. That’s because large, national ISPs are currently laying fiber primarily focused on high-income users to the detriment of the rest of their users. The absence of regulators has created a situation where wealthy end users are getting fiber, but predominantly low-income users are not being transitioned off legacy infrastructure. The result being “digital redlining” of broadband, where wealthy broadband users are getting the benefits of cheaper and faster Internet access through fiber, and low-income broadband users are being left behind with more expensive slow access by that same carrier.
Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who said Monday he will depart the commission on Jan. 20, leaves behind a controversial legacy: He’s regarded as either an exemplary change agent or an ideologue who forfeited consumer interests for commercial ones. To cable, telecommunications and consumer-electronics companies, Pai has been a model of transparency and a champion of free markets who cut away outdated regulations and laid the groundwork for the expansion of broadband to millions of Americans.
Washington, DC (October 29, 2020) - During Tuesday’s FCC open meeting, I was tweeting about the failures and falsehoods in the agency’s latest open-internet vote — a decision that involves so much more than just Net Neutrality rules, and that’s all about the Trump FCC’s unlawful abdication of its responsibility for broadband policy. The agency just released the final order, so this explainer recaps that Twitter thread and the Free Press research it came from. During tumultuous times it can be hard to focus on internet and media policy issues like these.
Five years ago, the movement for internet freedom won an important victory when the Federal Communications Commission reclassified the internet as a common carrier, making it like a utility that everyone should have equal access to without discrimination. That was quickly reversed in 2017 under the new chair of the FCC, Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, who deregulated the internet giving the government no authority to oversee the internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T. I speak with Josh Stager of the Open Technology Institute about the ongoing fight to protect the internet and what we need to do next.
Washington, DC - On October 27, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to reaffirm its 2017 repeal of net neutrality. The vote is a response to Mozilla v. FCC, a 2019 court ruling that found the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality was “unhinged from the realities of modern broadband service” and ignored the government’s duty to protect public safety, digital equity, and broadband competition. In February 2020, the FCC abruptly announced a short public comment period to address the ruling and the court-ordered remand, or do-over, of the net neutrality proceeding.
When the Department of Justice successfully broke up the AT&T monopoly into regional companies, it needed Congress to pass a law to open up the regional companies (known as Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers or ILECs) to competition. To do that, the Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that established bedrock competition law and reaffirmed non-discrimination policies that net neutrality is based on. The law Congress created a new industry that would interoperate with the ILECs.
Washington - On Tuesday, Free Press filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission that responded to the agency’s attempt to fix problems in its order that repealed Net Neutrality rules and tossed away its broadband-oversight authority. The proposal, scheduled for a vote at the FCC next week, responds to the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that remanded portions of the unpopular repeal to the agency for further consideration. Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated his proposal to address three issues the court of appeals raised in 2019.