San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo quits FCC broadband advisory board
The mayor of San Jose on Thursday quit an FCC broadband advisory board, decrying its lack of progress and saying the group seems to be working for the interests of the telecom industry and not the public. The board was formed a year ago to explore speeding up deployment of high-speed internet access. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who was vice chair of a working group that aimed to establish a model code for municipalities, described this week’s meeting in Washington, D.C., as dominated by business interests.
“I knew going into this that it would be an uphill battle,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. Liccardo is still in Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“One working group, which did not have a single municipal representative among its 30+ participants, created a draft model state code that included provisions to eliminate all municipal control over when, how, and whether to accept industry applications for infrastructure deployment,” Liccardo wrote in his resignation letter, which was addressed to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Pai defended the group and its aims Thursday. “The Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee and its working groups have brought together 101 participants from a range of perspectives to recommend strategies to promote better, faster, and cheaper broadband,” he said in an emailed statement. “Bridging the digital divide continues to be my top priority.” However, the city of San Jose said in a news release that the BDAC “did not craft a single measure that identified a new or substantial source of new funding” for bridging the digital divide.
Millions of Americans lack broadband access. Liccardo said the committee — which has 30 voting members, and only a handful representing cities — seemed most concerned about cost of infrastructure improvements and who would foot the bill: industry or municipalities. “At the 11th hour, we saw industry rewrites that pushed aside everything that had been negotiated for an industry-friendly, cookie-cutter set of rules that their lobbyists had proposed in dozens of states of across the country,” Liccardo said, noting that he and his staff spent “hundreds of hours” helping craft a model municipal code.
Pai, a Republican who was elevated to FCC chairman by President Trump, is no stranger to criticism about industry ties. A former Verizon lawyer, he recently pushed through a controversial repeal of net neutrality rules that benefits broadband providers, has sparked lawsuits from state attorneys general and public advocacy groups and is being fought by mostly Democratic legislators. Asked whether politics had anything to do with his decision to resign from the BDAC, Liccardo said, “this was political well before I ever stepped into it to the extent that we have an administration that’s in the pocket of the industry.”
He pointed out that San Jose has long worked with parties such as Sprint, Facebook and others in trying to bring high-speed internet access to the city.
“I don’t believe the industry is evil, but cities need to have a voice,” he said.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, expressed disappointment about Liccardo’s exit in a statement Thursday: “Disregarding an elected official representing one of the largest U.S. cities in the nation is unconscionable.”