The FCC has been ineffectual for some time, because it’s been short of full staffing. Big media players torpedoed, with the most scurrilous of means, the nomination of public interest advocate Gigi Sohn, but eventually Biden nominee Anna Gomez was sworn in as fifth commissioner. In the wake of that, FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel has now announced that the FCC is to be an active player again. At the National Press Club this week, Rosenworcel (9/26/23) said that the FCC will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking at its next meeting in mid-October. And they will center the role of Title II, the part of federal communications law that gives the agency the power to even go about overseeing corporate control of the internet.
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.
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.
“Safety first” is a principle you’ll always hear on the job. And it’s true—safety can save your life, if it’s taken seriously. But if action isn’t taken, it’s just an empty phrase. When my co-workers and I took action over safety in our workplace, we were retaliated against. This triggered the most useful tool that we have as workers: a strike. A little background: 2,000 telecom workers from eight locals of the Communications Workers (CWA) at Frontier in California have been working without a contract since last September. We’re fighting for our first non-concessionary contract in 17 years! While bargaining goes on, we’re working under the terms of a contract that Verizon and CWA agreed to in 2016. (When Frontier acquired the areas of California, Texas, and Florida, it agreed to uphold the same contract.)
For the past week, roughly 2,000 telecom workers at Frontier Communications in Southern California have been out on a unfair labor practice strike over a grievance stemming from the company’s continued reliance on subcontracting at the expense of union employees’ job security. The Frontier workers, affiliated with the Communication Workers of America District 9, walked out last Friday across eight locals representing technicians, call center employees, dispatchers, clerks, mechanics, and construction workers. On Wednesday night, Aug. 23, Thomas Ham, a fiber-optic technician with Local 9588, announced on Twitter that the grievance with Frontier had been settled and workers would be reporting to work Thursday morning.
40,000 CWU members employed by both BT and Openreach will take strike action on Friday 29 July and Monday 1 August. These workers have not taken national strike action since 1987. Out members are fighting for a real pay rise, and we ask that you support on picket lines across the UK. CWU members in the telecoms industry are key workers who have delivered vital services for the country throughout the pandemic. When broadband services and support became more important than ever, it was engineers in Openreach and call center workers in BT who kept us connected to our loved ones, our communities and essential resources. Now, the cost of living crisis means they go home with less and less in their pockets every month, while BT Group continues to profit.
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.
As federal lawmakers held a hearing Thursday on broadband equity, a new report details how the internet service provider industry, through hiked prices and disappearing lower-priced offerings, is exacerbating the digital divide. Entitled Price Too High and Rising: The Facts About America's Broadband Affordability Gap, the publication (pdf) from Free Press states that "the central fact is Americans pay too much for the internet." "By the start of 2020, nearly 80 million people still did not have adequate internet at home," according to report author and Free Press research director S. Derek Turner. "Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people comprise a disproportionate number of those who are disconnected."
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.