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Former FCC Commissioner: Ajit Pai & Co. Represent the Worst FCC Ever

Phillip Dampier June 20, 2017 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

Copps (Image: Peretz Partensky)

Former interim FCC chairman and commissioner Michael Copps has become so disillusioned with the agenda of the Trump Administration’s FCC, he’s ready to conclude its current leadership under Chairman Ajit Pai represents the worst FCC ever.

In an effort to erase the Obama Administration, President Trump has made it a priority to actively reverse the former administration’s policies. The FCC is no exception, and according to an article published by Moyers & Co., the Republican majority running the FCC these days are actively on board White House strategist Steve Bannon’s campaign to “deconstruct the administrative state.”

Author Michael Winship calls Pai an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump’s “doctrine of regulatory devastation,” and it appears Copps agrees as he comments on the current FCC agenda to dismantle set-top box competition, Net Neutrality, Lifeline internet service for the poor, restricting media consolidation, consumer’s privacy rights, and general oversight of the telecom industry.

Pai’s Garbage

“I think the April 26 speech that Ajit Pai gave at the Newseum, which was partially funded, I think, by conservative activist causes, was probably the worst speech I’ve ever heard a commissioner or a chairman of the FCC give,” Copps said. “It was replete with distorted history and a twisted interpretation of judicial decisions. And then, about two-thirds of the way through, it became intensely political and ideological, and he was spouting all this Ronald Reagan nonsense — if the government is big enough to do what you want, it’s big enough to take away everything you have, and all that garbage. It was awful. It’s maybe the worst FCC I’ve ever seen or read about.”

Today, Copps is special adviser for the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at the nonpartisan grassroots organization Common Cause. He “just may be,” Bill Moyers once said, “the most knowledgeable fellow in Washington on how communications policy affects you and me.”

Ajit Pai at Newseum, Apr. 26, 2017 (Image: C-SPAN)

Under the Trump Administration, Copps believes we are watching a wholesale transfer of the most important tools in a democracy — real news, diversity of ideas, and access to an open internet into the hands of a handful of mega-corporations and special interests that have bankrolled the Republican party and the election of Donald Trump.

“This is not populism; this is a plutocracy,” Copps warned. “Trump has surrounded himself with millionaires and billionaires, plus some ideologues who believe in, basically, no government. And the Trump FCC already has been very successful in dismantling lots of things — not just the Net Neutrality that they’re after now, but privacy, and Lifeline, which is subsidized broadband for those who can’t afford it. And just all sorts of things up and down the line. The whole panoply of regulation and public interest oversight — if they could get rid of it all, they would; if they can, they will.”

In fact, Copps noted, there were several conservative advisers on Trump’s transition team that advocated abolishing the FCC outright, believing consolidated telecom companies and media empires can successfully regulate themselves.

“I don’t know if Donald Trump is good for the country. but he’s damn good for CBS.”

“[CBS CEO Les] Moonves said it best: ‘I don’t know if Donald Trump is good for the country. but he’s damn good for CBS,'” Copps said. “The election was just a glorified reality show and I do not think it was an aberration. Until we get that big picture straightened out and we get a civic dialogue that’s worthy of the American people and that actually advances citizens’ ability to practice the art of self-government — that informs citizens so they can cast intelligent votes and we stop making such damn-fool decisions — we’re in serious trouble.”

Copps complained the mainstream media isn’t even covering stories about digital democracy, instead preoccupied with 24/7 coverage of the circus in Washington, D.C.

“I don’t think right now that commercial media is going to fix itself or even that we can save it with any policy that’s likely in the near-term, so we have to start looking at other alternatives,” Copps advised. “We have to talk about public media — public media probably has to get its act together somewhat, too. It’s not everything that Lyndon Johnson had in mind back in 1967 [when the Public Broadcasting Act was signed], but it’s still the jewel of our media ecosystem. So I’m more worried than ever about the state of our media — not just fake news but the lack of real news.”

Exposing what is really going on in Washington these days requires reporting beyond the latest misstep or tweet from the president, says Copps. For him, it’s the pervasive influence of corporate cash that really matters.

“I think there is that right-wing, pro-business, invisible hand ideology, and then there’s just the unabashed and unprecedented and disgusting level of money in politics,” Copps said. “I don’t blame just the Republicans; the Democrats are just about as beholden to it, too.”

Pai is a True Believer

Copps believes Pai is a true believer of an ideology that regulations do more harm than good.

“He has this Weltanschauung [world view] or whatever you want to call it that is so out of step with modern politics and where we should be in the history of this country that it’s potentially extremely destructive,” Copps said. “And Michael O’Rielly, the other Republican commissioner, is about the same. He’s an ideologue, too.”

“The problem is that Republicans inside the Beltway are joined in lockstep opposition on almost all these issues, and the level of partisanship, lobbying, big money, and ideology have thus far been insurmountable obstacles,” said Copps. “But I believe if members of Congress spent more time at home, holding more town hall meetings, they would quickly learn that many, many of their constituents are on the pro-consumer, pro-citizen side of these issues.”

Copps is worried that prior mergers set precedents for even larger ones, and the ongoing consolidation of the media and telecom industry is only going to get worse under the Trump Administration.

“I don’t know how long you can let this go on. How long can you open the bazaar to all this consolidation, how much can you encourage all this commercialization, how much can you ignore public media until you get to the point of no return where you can’t really fix it anymore,” Copps asked. “And I also think that the national discourse on the future of the internet has really suffered while we play ping pong with Net Neutrality; one group comes in, does this, the other group, comes in and reverses it, boom, boom, boom. And Net Neutrality is not the salvation or the solution to all of the problems of the internet. As you know, it’s kind of the opening thing you have to have, it lays a foundation where we can build a truly open internet.”

“It’s all about the ideology, the world of big money, the access that the big guys have and continue to have,” Copps concluded. “It’s not that the FCC outright refuses to let public interest groups through the door or anything like that; it’s just the lack of resources citizens and public interest groups have compared to what the big guys have. The public interest groups don’t have much of a chance, but I think they’ve done a pretty good job given the lack of resources.”

What Should the Public Do?

“Figure out how you really make this a grass-roots effort — and not just people writing, in but people doing more than that,” Copps advised. “In July, we will have a day devoted to internet action, so stay tuned on that. In addition, as Bill Moyers says, ‘If you can sing, sing. If you can write a poem, write a poem.’ Different initiatives attract different audiences, so whatever you can do, do. John Oliver made a huge difference in getting us to Net Neutrality and now he’s helping again. If you went up to the Hill right after that first John Oliver show on Net Neutrality [in 2014], you saw immediately that it made a difference with the members and the staff. There’s no one silver bullet, no “do this” and it suddenly happens. You just have to do whatever you can do to get people excited and organized. It’s as simple as that.”

Wisc. Senator Wants Paid Internet Fast Lanes; FCC Chairman Wants Focus on Investment

Johnson

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is in favor of banishing Net Neutrality and allowing service providers to sell paid broadband fast lanes, claiming some uses of the internet are more important than others.

Speaking alongside FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on a live interview with WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee with no guests in opposition, Johnson claimed unless cable and telephone companies are given additional economic incentives to risk capital, broadband service improvements will be slow in coming.

Johnson added ISPs should be allowed to adopt paid prioritization.

“You might need a fast lane within that pipeline so that [medical] diagnoses can be transmitted instantaneously [and] not [be] held up by maybe a movie streaming,” Johnson said.

“I want everyone to have what I call digital opportunity, and to do that you need to have a regulatory framework that gives all of these companies — satellite, wireless, fiber — a strong incentive to invest,” added Pai.

“As a businessperson, you need the economic incentive to risk your capital and the minute you have government regulation it reduces the certainty in terms of what you can get from return on investment, you are going to invest less,” argued Johnson. “We’re seeing that right now because of what [former FCC] Chairman Wheeler did.”

Pai

Pai argued that outdated FCC rules were also responsible for reducing broadband investment, particularly rules that require phone companies to continue maintaining their existing wireline network to provide universal access to telephone service.

Pai characterized Net Neutrality as government control of the internet.

“Do you want the government deciding how the internet is run?” Pai said, noting he favors “light touch” regulation where private companies manage their own businesses with targeted enforcement action by the FCC. “In 2015, on a party line vote, the FCC went the other way and put the government, rather than the private sector, at the center of how the internet operates.”

By getting rid of the Obama Administration’s Net Neutrality policies, Pai believes that will return the U.S. to an era of where cable and phone companies invest in their networks and expand rural broadband.

“As Chairman Pai said, Net Neutrality is a slogan,” added Johnson. “What you really want is an expansion of high-speed broadband. In order to do that, you have to create the incentives for those smaller ISPs to invest and if they don’t really control their own fiber — if the government tells them exactly how they are going to use their investment — there is less incentive for them to invest so we’ll have less high-speed broadband.”

“Consumers will be worse off because of this term Net Neutrality,” Johnson said.

“We at the FCC need to be focused on investment in infrastructure,” Pai said, not Net Neutrality.

Republican-Dominated FCC Votes 2-1 to Advance Repeal of Net Neutrality

Phillip Dampier May 18, 2017 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters 1 Comment

FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

(Reuters) The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 on Thursday to advance a Republican plan to reverse the Obama administration’s 2015 “Net Neutrality” order.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has proposed the commission repeal the rules that reclassified internet service providers as if they were utilities. He thinks the open internet rules by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, were unnecessary and harm jobs and investment.

“We propose to repeal utility-style regulation,” Pai said Thursday. “The evidence so far strongly suggests that this is the right way to go.”

The public will have until mid-August to offer comments before the FCC votes on a final plan.

Pai wants public input on whether the FCC has the authority or should keep its “bright line” rules barring internet companies from blocking, throttling or giving “fast lanes” to some websites. He has not committed to retaining any rules, but said he favors an “open internet.”

Pai said he would make a final proposal public before a final vote and said the FCC will conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who voted against the plan, said the end game appears to be an internet without FCC regulatory oversight. She said the proposal “jeopardizes the ability of the open internet to function tomorrow, as it does today.”

The FCC, which has already received more than 1 million comments, is also seeking comment on whether U.S. states should be able to set their own broadband privacy or other regulations.

Facebook, Alphabet Inc, and others back Net Neutrality rules, saying they guarantee equal access to the internet.

Broadband providers AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications, and Comcast oppose the 2015 order, saying it would discourage investment and innovation.

Internet providers insist they will not engage in blocking or throttling even in the absence of rules, but critics are skeptical.

Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat, said “it will take millions of people standing up, just like they did before, to say that the internet needs to stay free and open. That’s what it will take to win.”

Comcast, Charter Communications, and Altice USA signed an advertisement Wednesday saying they are “committed to an open internet that gives you the freedom to be in charge of your online experience…. We do not block, throttle or otherwise impair your online activity.”

USTelecom, an industry trade group, said the FCC “is moving the conversation beyond the merits of Net Neutrality to how best to safeguard this universally embraced value with a modern, constructive policy framework.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool)

FCC’s Mike O’Rielly Tells ALEC FCC Should Ban State Laws on Broadband Privacy, Consumer Protection

O’Rielly

Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly wants the FCC to prohibit states from attempting an end run around the current majority’s broad-based deregulation of ISPs, likening it to a war of socialist forces vs. free market capitalism.

Speaking at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Spring Task Force Summit Annual Summit in Charlotte, N.C. on May 5, O’Rielly made it clear he intends to stop states from writing broadband privacy rules to replace those killed by the Republican majority in Congress and also wants to restrict states from enacting new rules impacting Voice over IP and broadband. O’Rielly told the audience he had already spoken to Chairman Ajit Pai about his ideas, potentially giving his agenda a majority vote on the Commission. Currently, the FCC has just three commissioners – Ajit Pai, Mike O’Rielly, and Democrat Mignon Clyburn.

In earlier remarks, Pai rejected allowing states to make their own decisions about broadband privacy policies.

“It is both impractical and very harmful for each state to enact differing and conflicting privacy burdens on broadband providers, many of which serve multiple states, if not the entire country,” said Pai. “If necessary, the FCC should be willing to issue the requisite decision to clarify the jurisdictional aspects of this issue.”

FCC action could potentially pre-empt any state laws from at least 10 states that have either passed ISP privacy laws or are planning to.

O’Rielly declared he intends to move broadband regulation away from the agenda favored by the Obama Administration’s FCC chairman Thomas Wheeler and return to hands-off policies allowing cable and phone companies to manage their businesses without government interference. O’Rielly told a cheering audience at the corporate-funded conference that under Chairman Pai’s watch, the FCC will return to “its previous approach to broadband that enabled staggering innovation, creativity, competition, disruption and consumer benefit.”

O’Rielly characterized groups fighting for consumer legislation banning zero rating/data caps, rate regulation, oversight, and consumer protection laws as part of a nefarious “progressive agenda to vanquish capitalism and economic liberty.” Like ALEC, O’Rielly claimed, the FCC has been unfairly attacked by progressive groups that call out both Chairman Pai’s agenda at the FCC and ALEC itself for ghostwritten legislation actually written by large corporate interests and passed for their welfare.

“Like ALEC, the new commission is facing its share of unwarranted and inappropriate criticism,” O’Rielly complained.

O’Rielly’s speech declared war on three hot issues broadband companies and consumers are concerned with: Net Neutrality, community-owned broadband networks, and state regulators seen as meddling with the free market.

  • Net Neutrality: “All of the propaganda in the world cannot paper over the fact that these new burdens were not in response to actual marketplace events but hypothetical concerns dreamed up by radical activists.”
  • Regulation of Voice over IP Phone Service in Minnesota to assure quality of service: “Such inappropriate jurisdictional overreaches by states should be nipped in the bud.”
  • Municipal Broadband: “It would be easy, as some have done, to blindly support any means necessary to get more and faster broadband to people they represent.”

O’Rielly sought a tighter partnership with ALEC to stop consumer groups from enacting new laws that protect an open internet:

“The members of ALEC can serve an important role as the new Commission seeks to restore free market principles to broadband offerings. Many of you know all too well of the pressure on us to buckle and acquiesce to the whims of the misinformed screaming for Net Neutrality. You likely face it at your respective statehouses as you debate the various matters before you. The ‘progressive agenda’ being pushed in so many settings is really an effort to use government as a means to redistribute hard earned assets from one group of people to favored interests. Do not let your voices go unheard as Net Neutrality advocates slowly, but surely, seek to drag the U.S. economy toward socialism.”

On municipal broadband, O’Rielly stretched his premise into a comparison of communities that want to have the ability to build their own networks with past offers of discounted heating oil from former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, suggesting good deeds on the surface may lead to unintended consequences later on.

Byron is on ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force

O’Rielly has also been infuriated with Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission, which has been sparring with Charter Communications over its cable “digital phone” service in the U.S. District Court in St. Paul.

In March 2013, Charter Fiberlink Companies transferred 100,000 Minnesota customers to “an affiliate, Charter Advanced Services Companies, which provided VoIP phone service that was not certified” by the PUC, the Commerce Department said.

Better known as Spectrum Voice, Charter’s VoIP service had failed to collect any fees to support the state’s Telecommunications Access Minnesota program, which provides equipment for hearing-impaired and blind consumers who use the Minnesota Relay Service. Charter also refused to credit low-income consumers who would otherwise qualify for Lifeline phone service at discounted rates.

If the court determined VoIP was a “telecommunications service,” Minnesota regulators could force Charter to comply with state law. If determined to be an “information service,” federal rules exempting Charter would apply.

The week after O’Rielly delivered his speech a Minnesota federal charge ruled in favor of Charter and against the state regulator.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson relied on arcane terminology that lets Charter avoid state regulation:

“The court agrees with Charter Advanced that Spectrum Voice engages in net protocol conversion, and that this feature renders it an ‘information service’ under applicable legal and administrative precedent,” according to the opinion. Although Judge Nelson agreed that “the frank purpose” behind Charter’s customer shuffling was to “limit the reach of state regulation, thereby enhancing Charter’s market competitiveness,” she said the service fit the qualifications of an information service.

“The touchstone of the information services inquiry is whether Spectrum Voice acts on the customer’s information — here a phone call — in such a way as to ‘transform’ that information,” the opinion said.

Regardless of the judge’s decision, O’Rielly wants to prevent a recurrence of state regulator interference in the cable industry’s phone business.

“The commission should have just declared VoIP to be an interstate information service,” O’Rielly told the audience. “Arguably, VoIP is just an application not even subject to FCC jurisdiction much less that of individual states.”

John Oliver’s Newest Net Neutrality Plea Crashed the FCC’s Website

John Oliver returns to defend Net Neutrality, and provide a simpler way for ordinary Americans to share their views with the FCC.

John Oliver is back.

As Donald Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai lays the groundwork for an all-out repeat of Net Neutrality, Oliver spent 20 minutes of his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” this past weekend pleading for Americans to come out and protect a free and open internet, just as he did three years earlier.

“It seems that the Trump-era will basically Ctrl-Z everything that happened on Obama’s watch,” Oliver said. “I genuinely would not be surprised if one night Trump went on TV just to tell us he personally killed every turkey Obama ever pardoned.”

“Every internet group needs to come together like you successfully did three years ago,” Oliver told his audience. “Gamers, YouTube celebrities, Instagram models, Tom from MySpace — if you’re still alive. We need all of you. You cannot say you are too busy when 540,000 of you commented on Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement.”

To help ordinary Americans navigate the FCC’s arcane electronic comments filing system, Oliver launched GoFCCYourself.com, a website dedicated to getting comments about Net Neutrality registered with the FCC.

His viewers responded, and promptly crashed the FCC’s website with an overwhelming amount of traffic. The same thing happened in 2014 when Oliver’s public plea helped produce millions of comments in favor of Net Neutrality. As of this afternoon, the FCC website is still slower than usual and the likely deluge of comments will keep FCC staffers busy for weeks to come.

Oliver took direct aim at Pai, noting the former Verizon lawyer said he would take a weed whacker to telecom regulations and has already threatened that Net Neutrality’s “days are numbered.”

“‘Days are numbered’ and ‘take a weed whacker’ are serial-killer talk,” Oliver said.

Oliver lampooned Pai over his repeated tweets quoting lines from the 1998 film The Big Lebowski and his oversized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup coffee mug.

“Ajit Pai is the kind of guy who has a fun, oversized novelty mug and he is really proud of it,” Oliver said.

But despite the fun-loving façade, Pai’s claims that Net Neutrality regulations were burdensome and unnecessary are not a game to internet content providers and startups that fear large telecommunications companies could rig the marketplace against them. Pai complained at a gathering held April 26 at the Newseum, sponsored in part by FreedomWorks — a group with direct ties to the Koch Brothers, that “special interests” were pushing Net Neutrality and causing a reduction in private broadband investment.

Oliver responded that Title II enforcement was essential for Net Neutrality policies to have any teeth. Pai’s desire to return to an earlier Title I enforcement mechanism for Net Neutrality was overturned by the D.C. Court of Appeals, ruling the FCC could not enforce Net Neutrality policies under Title I, and suggested Title II enforcement instead.

Last week, that same D.C. Court of Appeals elected not to review and let stand a three-judge panel’s decision that the FCC was within its rights to reclassify ISPs under Title II, a clear victory for open internet proponents.

“[That] decision is a win for consumers,” said Lisa Hayes, general counsel for the Center For Democracy and Technology. “The court agreed that Title II classification is sound, and that the FCC has authority to regulate the marketplace. Net neutrality is essential to a vibrant internet ecosystem, and CDT will continue to defend the open internet in the days and years to come.”

“The D.C. Circuit has once again confirmed that the FCC’s Open Internet rules are lawful and supported by the evidence,” said Public Knowledge senior counsel John Bergmayer. “Now, the primary threat to these important consumer protections is FCC Chairman Pai’s determination to roll them back, and to hand more power to monopolistic internet access providers.”

ISPs like Verizon are also on record stating Net Neutrality had and will continue to have no bearing on internet investment, which directly contradicts Pai’s repeated claims.

“Maybe the best way to gauge Title II’s impact is to listen to what cable companies told their own investors, to who they are legally obligated to tell the truth,” Oliver said, playing a recording of a 2014 Verizon earnings conference call quoting former chief financial officer Fran Shammo who told investors that Net Neutrality “does not influence the way we invest.”

John Oliver takes on FCC chairman Ajit Pai in Net Neutrality II from his HBO series “Last Week Tonight.” (19:32)

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