What’s going on at the FCC? Lots of changes – new decreases and stops on past actions

Late last month, I mention that the FCC had a new chair – Ajit Pai. One of the interesting things he did almost immediately was announce a Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. (Applications to join the committee are due today.) Since those posts (and even before them) he’s been busy. Here’s a timeline of things that have happened.

Sep 13, 2016 – Pai creates a Digital Empowerment Agenda – there is a push to increase access to broadband by “incentivizing providers” and “remove state and local barriers to deployment.” The proposal leave heavily on the private sector expanding broadband deployment.

Dec 8 (2016) – Pai talks about cutting down net neutrality

Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai yesterday vowed to take a “weed whacker” to FCC regulations after President-elect Donald Trump takes office, with net neutrality rules being among the first to be cut down.

Jan 24 – Pai gives a speech expressing an interest in closing the digital divide or at least supporting the private sector as they build networks…

“I believe one of our core priorities going forward should be to close that divide—to do what’s necessary to help the private sector build networks, send signals, and distribute information to American consumers, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else.  We must work to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans.”

Jan 26 – FCC votes to provide up to $170 million from the Connect America Fund to expand broadband deployment in unserved rural areas of New York State…

The $170 million in federal funding will be coupled with at least $200 million in state funding and private investment to jump-start broadband deployment and close the digital divide in these unserved areas more quickly. This partnership with the state program will also result in more efficient and effective use of both state and federal funding.

Jan 27 – Decreases transparency for broadband providers

When the FCC passed its net neutrality rules in 2015, they included transparency measures for internet service providers. Big providers were required to submit information to regulators and consumers on data caps, fees, and speeds, but the order also included a temporary waiver for providers with less than 100,000 subscribers. After a re-extension, the transparency requirements would have gone into effect this month. …

Pai, who was just appointed to the new job this week, introduced a proposal that would not only extend that waiver for a full five years, but expand it. If passed by the rest of the agency’s commissioners, any service provider with fewer than 250,000 subscribers will not be bound by the transparency requirements.

Jan 31 – removes from consideration the option to allow non-broadband providers to make and sell cable boxes. (Reminds me of Caterfone decision.)

The FCC has good news this morning for cable and satellite companies, but bad news for their subscribers who hate the set-top boxes they usually must lease in order to watch TV.

The agency’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, has removed from its agenda consideration of a proposal that would have made it possible for independent manufacturers to sell boxes that could replace the ones providers supply. The FCC says that 99% of subscribers pay an average of $231 a year to lease the boxes, even well after they’ve covered the cost of the devices.

Feb 2 – Increases transparency for the FCC

So, in a first-ever pilot project, the Federal Communications Commission has begun publishing the full text of proposals and regulations that the public would otherwise never see until after they have been finalized and approved.

Feb 3 – Removes 9 companies from the Lifeline program.

The Federal Communications Commission dealt a blow to a program intended to provide subsidized internet to the poor, announcing that nine companies would no longer be able to participate in the plan. …

“By eliminating the designations of nine entities to provide Lifeline broadband service, the Bureau has substantially undermined businesses who had begun relying on those designations,” Clyburn said. “These providers include a minority-owned business, a provider enabling students to complete their homework online, and others serving Tribal lands.”

Feb 3 – Closes investigations into zero-rating by T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. Zero-rating is a practice of allowing customers to stream *some* music and video without it counting toward a data plan limit…

“Today, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is closing its investigation into wireless carriers’ free-data offerings,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.”

It may be a popular choice but sounds a lot like what Net Neutrality marshaled against.

Feb 3 – the FCC retracts several reports released by the previous administration – released at the very end if their tenure and that is the reason Pai gave for revoking them. So what was revoked?

Spiking the investigation into zero-rating practices by telecoms is the most serious about-face, but it’s worth noting the other items going down the memory hole, unannounced, on a Friday afternoon. …

The Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau issued a 56-page white paper entitled “Cybersecurity Risk Reduction” on January 18th that addressed issues from Internet of Things security to reporting outages in submarine cables. It now has “no legal or other effect or meaning.” …

A second paper filed on the 18th examines progress made in modernizing the E-rate program, which provides discounts to schools for internet connectivity, as a follow-up to orders filed by the FCC in 2014….

A third paper ordered removed is a report on security challenges that might be encountered during the rollout of 5G mobile networks and associated devices. …

A fourth, shorter report regarding methodology in improving broadband networks was ordered nullified. …

Last is the “reconsideration” of several companies that had petitioned to be part of the Lifeline low-income connectivity voucher program. Several companies granted permission to be providers in recent weeks had that permission snatched away.

This entry was posted in FCC, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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