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FCC 'Broadband Advisory' Panel Stocked With Industry Lackeys

For much of the last week, FCC boss Ajit Pai has been desperately trying to change the subject from his attack on net neutrality — to his self-proclaimed dedication to closing the “digital divide.” This professed dedication isn’t reflected by Pai’s own actions, which have included killing net neutrality, protecting business broadband monopolies[1], killing broadband funding for the poor[2], gutting efforts to create more cable box competition[3], and opposing community-run broadband as a creative solution to coverage shortcomings.

FCC 'Broadband Advisory' Panel Stocked With Industry Lackeys

Part of Pai’s hollow rhetoric on this subject has involved hyping something known as the FCC “Broadband Deployment Advisory Council,” (BDAC) which Pai created last year, and insists is integral in aiding his self-professed selfless dedication to the poor.

“The BDAC’s work is critical to my top policy priority as FCC Chairman — closing the digital divide,” Pai argued in a speech this week[4]. “Since last March, you’ve been hard at work developing recommendations to the FCC about strategies to promote better, faster, and cheaper broadband.” But have they really? When the panel was announced it was widely criticized[5] for being predominately stocked with representatives from the biggest and most wealthiest ISPs.

Lobbyists, consultants, think tankers, fauxcademics, and economists large broadband providers frequently use to justify federal apathy toward a lack of competition in the sector are well incredibly well represented. Barely represented? Consumer groups, minority groups, municipal broadband experts or any of the towns and cities forced to build their own broadband networks due to a lack of competition (and the current FCC’s apathy to it).

“More than three out of four seats on the BDAC are filled by business-friendly representatives from the biggest wireless and cable companies such as AT&T, Comcast,, Sprint, and TDS Telecom. Crown Castle International Corp., the nation’s largest wireless infrastructure company, and Southern Co., the nation’s second-largest utility firm, have representatives on the panel,” a recent report observed[6]. “Also appointed to the panel were broadband experts from conservative think tanks who have been critical of FCC regulations such as the International Center for Law and Economics and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.”

FCC 'Broadband Advisory' Panel Stocked With Industry Lackeys“It’s obvious that this body is going to deliver to the industry what the industry wants,” FCC 'Broadband Advisory' Panel Stocked With Industry Lackeys

Those concerns bubbled up again this week after San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo quit his spot on the advisory panel[7], again arguing it was a dog and pony show whose primary purpose is serving the needs of entrenched incumbents.

“It has become abundantly clear that despite the good intentions of several participants, the industry-heavy makeup of BDAC will simply relegate the body to being a vehicle for advancing the interests of the telecommunications industry over those of the public,” Liccardo said in his resignation letter[8]. According to Liccardo, after nearly a year the panel has failed to come up with even one meaning policy program to help close the digital divide.

“After nine months of deliberation, negotiation, and discussion, we’ve made no progress toward a single proposal that will actually further the goal of equitable broadband deployment,” said. “It’s obvious that this body is going to deliver to the industry what the industry wants,” the Mayor added. And what the industry wants is for the broken duopoly logjam to remain unchanged, since limited competition is hugely profitable.

Few of the panel’s advisors can even admit limited competition is even a problem, much less recommend ways to solve it. Killing popular net neutrality rules certainly didn’t accomplish Pai’s stated goals. Neither will the attempt to kill state and federal oversight[9] of companies like Comcast, who are enjoying a broader broadband monopoly in many markets[10] than ever before.

“Closing the digital divide” is popular rhetoric for both parties, but traditionally neither has been eager to upset deep-pocketed campaign contributions by crafting policies that would actually help address this often-ambiguous goal.

Again, that’s because to fix the digital divide you need more competition to boost deployment and lower prices, something no incumbent ISP actually supports.

The FCC and industry does hope, however, that Pai’s empty rhetoric helps distract the public from the fact he sold the public out on net neutrality.

References

  1. ^ protecting business broadband monopolies (www.dslreports.com)
  2. ^ broadband funding for the poor (arstechnica.com)
  3. ^ cable box competition (www.dslreports.com)
  4. ^ in a speech this week (transition.fcc.gov)
  5. ^ widely criticized (www.dslreports.com)
  6. ^ recent report observed (www.thedailybeast.com)
  7. ^ quit his spot on the advisory panel (www.axios.com)
  8. ^ resignation letter (www.documentcloud.org)
  9. ^ kill state and federal oversight (www.dslreports.com)
  10. ^ broader broadband monopoly in many markets (www.dslreports.com)

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