FCC Gets Together, Apart, in Age of COVID-19

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The Federal Communications Commission held its mandatory monthly meeting via a brief, video-less, teleconference call March 31, with commissioners dialing in from home and the public able to access it over a never-more-important broadband connection. The commissioners had already voted to approve all the meeting agenda items, and their time — the meeting lasted less than 20 minutes — was spent mostly talking about the pandemic and how they and the industry were dealing with it. 

  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai cited the 633 broadband companies and 17 trade associations that signed on to his pledge to keep America connected during the ongoing health crisis and the FCC staffers who had kept the commission up and running and working, mostly from home. 
  • Commissioner Michael O'Rielly put in a request. Chairman Pai has circulated an item for a vote combining his framework for spending a $200 million emergency congressional authorization for telehealth that was in the COVID-19 aid package and a separate $100 million pilot telehealth program using Universal Service Fund subsidy money. Commissioner O'Rielly asked that the items be separated so he could vote the emergency package first and then take a little more time to vet the pilot program item. 
  • Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said she would commit to vote the emergency portion of the telehealth item by end of day, but like Commissioner O'Rielly was going to take more time with the pilot program item. She also said it is not time to be timid, but for the FCC to use all its powers, including closing the homework gap, better tracking network outages to find and fill gaps, extending the Keep America Connected pledge to prepaid plans, and to extend the Lifeline subsidy program. 
  • Commissioner Brendan Carr said the internet and telecom networks are more important than ever, and according to the data he had seen, could handle the load.  "We've been in constant contact with internet providers and third party application providers alike monitoring network traffic and putting out information on that," he said. He said the network performance data shows that those networks are "strong and resilient" and that the pandemic-related surge in traffic is "well within the capacity of the U.S. networks."  
  • Commissioner Geoffrey Starks called for an FCC stimulus package of its own. "The time to expand affordable broadband options and a Lifeline for struggling Americans is now," he said, adding that no American should go without a connection because of cost. 

FCC Gets Together, Apart, in Age of COVID-19 Chairman Pai Statement During Open Commission Meeting Teleconference Commissioner Starks Statement on March Open Meeting Teleconference Commissioner Rosenworcel Statement for March 2020 FCC Open Meeting