Is This What Transparency Looks Like?
Is This What Transparency Looks Like?
You’re reading the Benton Foundation’s Weekly Round-up, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) telecommunications stories of the week. The round-up is delivered via e-mail each Friday; to get your own copy, subscribe at www.benton.org/user/register
Robbie's Round-Up for the Week of February 6-10, 2017
On February 2, new Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said, "I want this Commission to be as open and accessible as possible to the American people. I want us to do a better job of communicating with those we are here to serve" while announcing a new effort to make the agency more transparent. [We covered the news.] The next day, in what some call a “Friday News Dump,” Chairman Pai decided to rescind and hide facts previously released by the Commission. Cecilia Kang wrote in the New York Times, “In total, as the chairman of the FCC, Pai released about a dozen actions in the last week, many buried in the agency’s website and not publicly announced, stunning consumer advocacy groups and telecom analysts.”
Here's some of the actions the Pai FCC took:
- Stopped nine companies from participating in the Lifeline program
- Retracted a progress report on E-rate program modernization
- Ended the an inquiry into “Zero-Ratings”
- Eliminated a guidance to broadcasters regarding shared service agreements and ownership consolidation
- Rescinded a report on improving the nation’s digital infrastructure
- Withdrew requirement that noncommercial stations file ownership-diversity data
- Set aside a white paper addressing cybersecurity risk reduction
- Set aside two orders for violations of political-file rules
- Shut down an FCC inquiry regarding flexible spectrum use
Reactions to the Friday News Dump
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn released a statement critiquing Chairman Pai’s actions:
Today multiple Bureaus retract—without a shred of explanation—several items released under the previous administration that focus on competition, consumer protection, cybersecurity and other issues core to the FCC’s mission….It is a basic principle of administrative procedure that actions must be accompanied by reasons for that action, else that action is unlawful. Yet that is exactly what multiple Bureaus have done today. The Bureaus rescind prior Bureau actions by simply citing a rule that allows them to do so, when in prior invocations of that rule there have been oft-lengthy explanations for the reasoning behind the actions….It is disappointing to see this Chairman engage in the same actions for which he criticized the prior Chairman. I am hopeful that in the future this Commission, consistent with our shared commitment to increased transparency, will heed the [Administrative Procedure Act's] requirement for reasoned decision-making. The American public deserves no less.
Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said, "With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes. The public wants an FCC that helps people. Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations its chairman used to work for. This Friday-afternoon release is a phenomenally hypocritical maneuver in light of comments Chairman Pai made earlier this week pledging increased transparency at the agency. It took him just two days to break that promise. Today, Pai followed President Trump’s lead by issuing his own types of executive orders, which undermine the democratic process, strip consumers of safeguards and rob millions of the neediest families of the help they need to bridge the digital divide."
Pai’s moves have us wondering about the impact on FCC staff and fellow commissioners. According to Public Knowledge Senior Policy Counsel Phillip Berenbroick, the various reversals essentially "flush[ed] months of the FCC staff’s work down the drain.” Given that Pai repeatedly accused former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler of shunning bipartisanship and transparency, "you would imagine there would be more transparency and more effort to find bipartisan consensus here," Berenbroick said.
Similar to the barrage of executive orders that have come from the White House, Pai is starting his tenure as Chairman with an overwhelming amount of regulation rollbacks. Pai also adopted the now-familiar Trump Administration tactic of criticizing the media when his actions were met with criticism. Former Chairman Wheeler characterized the FCC’s role as the public's advocate . Chairman Pai says he wants to help the industries the agency was created to regulate. Sadly, we can only expect more image control from Chairman Pai as he continues to remake the FCC.
Special Note: This week, Andrew Jay Schwartzman, the Benton Senior Counselor at the Public Interest Communications Law Project at Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation, appeared before the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to defend the FCC’s rules to lower the predatory prices inmates and their families pay to make prison phone calls. Schwartzman appeared because the FCC, decided not to defend the rules. You can read more about it in Benton Executive Director Adrianne Furniss’ piece, “When the Pai FCC Abandons the Public Interest, Who You Gonna Call?”
- House Passes Email Privacy Act, Multichannel News
- Blackburn: Let FCC Make First Move on Net Neutrality (B&C)
- Trump’s blasts at judge raise questions for Gorsuch on independence (Washington Post)
Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
Make America great with great broadband (Blair Levin)
FCC Chairman Pai’s Alternative Personalities, Facts, Economics and Law—Part One (TeleFrieden)
Under new Trump chairman, FCC means business (Adonis Hoffman Op-Ed)
Event Calendar for Feb 13-17
Feb 15 -- Workshop on Tactical Encryption and Key Management, NTIA
Feb 16 -- The Future of Digital Rights Is A Library Card, New America
ICYMI from Benton
Defending the Indefensible: Chairman Pai’s Lifeline Reversal Will Widen the Digital Divide, Gigi Sohn
When the Pai FCC Abandons the Public Interest, Who You Gonna Call?, Adrianne Furniss
Making the FCC Transparent Again, Robbie McBeath
Community Anchor Institutions and Residential Broadband Adoption, Angela Siefer