FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn of the Federal Communications Commission issued the following statement in response to the Commission’s failure to address the needs ofsmall broadband providers:
“Nearly two years ago, in the lead up to the Commission’s adoption of the 2015 Open Internet Order, I fought hard to ensure that our nation’s smallest broadband service providers would be free from undue burden when it comes to enhancements to the FCC’s transparency rule. It pains me to report today, that not only have those enhancements gone into effect for all providers, but the Order which would have protected small providers from this enhanced requirement, failed to get adopted by this body. This means that now, even providers with just a handful of customers, must comply with every one of the enhancements to our transparency rules. I am extremely disappointed that the Commission did not reach consensus on extending the exemption pending resolution of a rulemaking on this issue. Over a month ago, I voted to establish commonsense protections for small service providers from these enhanced requirements: the only FCC Commissioner to do so. I acted then, and still today feel, that while increased transparency is desirable, we should never abandon our duty to ensure that regulatory benefits outweigh regulatory burdens, particularly when it comes to small businesses. This ‘flash cut’ is unfair to the smallest operators, the very ones who believed that our government would protect them from undue burdens. Today, we failed as a Commission, but I am hopeful we will rectify that failure soon."
[Commentary] Ensuring that the internet remains a fountain of innovation and disruption is at the heart of open internet policy. The elimination of clear rules protecting a free and open internet would put us in uncharted territory and would create uncertainty for Internet service providers, edge providers and consumers alike. In many ways, what the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission have accomplished these past eight years aligns with the promises of the next administration — standing up for the little guy, unleashing the power of the entrepreneur, and making sure that America continues to be the most dynamic economy in the world.
Let’s not stack the deck against consumers and innovators, or undermine the technological revolution at our fingertips. Let us instead focus on preserving a free and open internet and privacy protections to the benefit of all consumers.
[Terrell McSweeny is a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission. Mignon Clyburn is a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission.]
You may have caught my tweetstorm over the past few days highlighting several examples of bad practices when it comes to our nation's inmate calling services regime. Sadly, there are many more examples, particularly when it comes to city and county jails where some of the highest intrastate inmate calling rates across the country remain in effect.
Arkansas County, Arkansas, for one, charges almost $25 for a 15 minute call; Clare County, Michigan charges $22.56; and in a Natrona County, Wyoming facility it costs $9.47 to speak to an inmate for 15 minutes. Contrast that with a 15 minute voice call from a mobile provider at $0.28, and you see why families and children of inmates are as captive to the system as their loved ones. Given that the median income of a male inmate before incarceration is $19,650, how do you suppose he (or the family left behind) can be expected to pay a phone bill that is 8800% higher than before he began his sentence? And while voice rates and usage are on the decline for the majority of consumers, charges for inmates continue to rise in most communities.
Despite attempts at reform when the FCC made substantial concessions as it voted to approve rates that far exceeded what the data for over 90% of the providers own unaudited numbers substantiated, Inmate Calling Services (ICS) companies continue to fight to keep their excessive profits flowing. For example, when the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 Order eliminated all but three ancillary fees (that historically added as much as 40% to the cost of ICS calls), Securus, one of the largest providers of ICS, effectively transferred the now disallowed connection fees into “first minute rates.” On top of that, they lowered the prepaid account maximum deposit, so that the company would be able to continue charging inmates and their families exorbitant rates including when they add money into the inmate's account! No one except an inmate and/or his/her family, pays more for the first minute of a call; no one except an inmate (family) pays a fee in order to PREPAY their telephone bill. No one.
I am honored to be a part of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association’s Telecom Executive Policy Summit and wish to use the time you have generously allotted, to touch on a few topics I know are important to you and your members. First and foremost, rate-of-return reform: where we started from, and where we are going. Second, rural call completion. Third, enabling technology transitions, as we continue to move from a TDM to an IP world. And, I’ll finish with an issue that is both close to my heart and to yours—the interplay between Lifeline and the high-cost programs.
[Commentary] Communications providers who offer access to the Internet in our homes and on our phones have found a way to evade accountability by effectively locking the courtroom doors on their customers. They do it through the use of what are known as mandatory arbitration clauses, buried deep in the fine print of the contracts you have to sign in order to get Internet service. These clauses force you to sign away your right to go to court in the event of a dispute, in favor of a private arbitration process that is inherently biased towards corporations and offers no meaningful appeals process.
In an age where reliable and affordable Internet access is an absolute necessity, we believe that you shouldn’t have to give up your day in court to go online, either. That’s why we’re teaming up to try to eliminate mandatory arbitration clauses in telecom contracts. But whether it’s in the Senate (where Al has authored legislation that would ban these clauses) or at the Federal Communications Commission (where Mignon is leading the charge for a regulatory crackdown this month), your voice matters in this fight. After all, these are your rights at stake. If the issue of mandatory arbitration remains just another little-known way for corporations to take advantage of the little guy, it’ll be impossible to stop them. But if we raise awareness about this quiet threat to our rights and raise our voices in support of eliminating this unfair practice once and for all, we can strike a blow for justice and protect every American who goes online—which is pretty much all of us.
We are calling this afternoon's policy forum #Solutions2020 because we firmly belive that we can achieve robust, affordable connectivity for all Americans within the next four years. The six pillars I will outline, if fully implemented, will connect those digital deserts with robust, affordable communications services.
1) Ensure Affordable Communications: Lack of affordability remains one of the largest barriers to connected communities in this country, which is why I have made it the first pillar.
2) Empowering Communities: Local governments, that want to bring broadband connectivity to their communities, particularly when the private sector has failed to do so, should have, that right.
3) Broadband as a Driver of Improved Health Services: We must explore new ways, to ensure our nation’s health facilities, are equipped with advanced broadband-enabled technologies.
4) Promoting a More Diverse Media Landscape: We must strive to do more when it comes to making our media landscape truly reflective of the melting pot we call America.
5) 5G and Beyond for All Americans: There is a lot of buzz, around “5G” and I share this excitement. However, we must ensure, that the benefits of high-speed wireless broadband, reach all communities, including those Americans, who continue to rely on 2G service. And 5G connectivity, is largely reliant on the availability of more spectrum.
6) Enhancing Consumer Protections: Consumers deserve real transparency, when it comes to signing up for communications services.
In July, Rep Mike Doyle (D-PA) and I penned an Op-Ed which articulated a simple principle: consumers should know exactly what they will pay before they get their first month’s bill – and, in fact, this should be known and clear before being asked to provide sensitive personal information. We called on the nation’s communications providers to lead the way by voluntarily improving transparency and disclosure of these “below the line” fees so that when consumers sign up for service, either online or in-store, they will not have to wait for their first bill to learn what their service truly costs. So I am extremely pleased that three months later, the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Advisory Committee “No Surprises Task Force” has come up with a series of recommendations that address these very concerns.
Implementing these recommendations would be a huge win for consumers and an opportunity for providers to show how committed they are to putting customers first. So once again, to the Task Force, the Consumer Advisory Committee and the staff of the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, thank you for your tireless efforts on such an important consumer issue and as always, thank you for being a voice for those too seldom heard.
I wish to talk about the ongoing work at the Commission when it comes to that goal, as well as the Connect2Health initiative, which examines the intersection of broadband connectivity, advanced technology and health. The Commission’s universal service programs serve as an important enabler of opportunities for many in our communities that would otherwise be left in digital darkness. My overarching principle when it comes to universal service is the most “bang for the buck.” How can we get the best broadband to the most people while maximizing limited universal service fund dollars.
On October 19th, I will host my #Solutions2020 Policy Forum in Washington, DC to explore solutions to bringing affordable and competitive services to consumers and small businesses. The forum is the culmination of my #ConnectingCommunities tour, which I embarked on less than six months ago. I hope to see you there so that we may continue our dialogue on how best to meet the growing and diverse needs of our communities.
Access to robust, affordable advanced telecommunications services, ought to be available to everyone — no matter who they are, no matter where they live. That is not only the core tenet of the #ConnectingCommunities tour I launched in April, it is one of the ‘prime directives’ of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. An invitation from Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) brought me to New Mexico, where I engaged in in-depth discussions about the successes and challenges that New Mexico and Navajo Nation face as they bring connectivity to their communities.
I am extremely pleased to be here with you as we launch the Federal Communications Commission’s newest consumer offering — the Mapping Broadband Health in America Platform. The FCC’s mapping effort is historic, because it directly addresses the serious and growing challenge, of ensuring that the transformative power of broadband in health, is available to everyone.
To use public health parlance, broadband connectivity has become a social determinant of health, along with income, education and rurality. Indeed, we believe that broadband availability is increasingly becoming a super-determinant of health. With each passing day, more people are living a greater portion of their lives “online.” The mapping tool we unveil today promises to provide a new and powerful roadmap for stakeholders, to leverage high speed connectivity to improve the health of our Nation. It will help us identify both gaps and opportunities, and empower us to construct bridges at the intersection of broadband and health precisely where they are needed.