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The FCC returns to a disastrous year through tinted glasses of pink

From the fury that invaded the FCC last year, you might think that the agency had accomplished little but frightening advocates of privacy and dance for its clients, the telecom. But as is often the case in government, many things have been done with fanfare, to be overshadowed by more controversial topics.

FCC President Ajit Pai has published a list of "achievements", which are there to remind us of the many ungrateful articles that take up most of the agency's time (and which require a lot many employees), but also from the harmful agenda that has been unfolding continuously since the election.

With such a disastrous introduction, I should be right and note that the President's declared priority for the closure of broadband has been pursued with some vigor.

The first elements listed in the Pai report (actually among the first) are the Mobility and Connect America funds, which will disburse hundreds of millions (possibly billions) for the specific purpose of establishing a coverage without broadband and fixed broadband. underserved areas. $ 170 million is already reserved for the state of New York.

This serious action is countered by several things. More recently, we learned that the Broadband Deployment Action Committee, seemingly a wide range of people united for this eponymous purpose, is so dominated by telecom and therefore ineffective that the mayor of San Jose left it with disgust .

"It has become clear that, despite the good intentions of many participants, BDAC's industrial composition simply relegates the body to a role of promoting the interests of the telecommunications industry in relation to the public", he adds. wrote in his resignation letter.

Broadband rollout also narrowly avoided a major setback in the proposal that the mobile data service should be considered as broadband, in order to determine who has sufficient connectivity and who does not have access to broadband. do not have one. Of course, this proposal was incredibly illogical and would have led, for example, to central districts served by LTE but expensive to deploy with decent fixed broadband, being classified as adequately served. Fortunately, this misguided idea was rejected after months of public outcry.

And of course, there is pressure to cut corners of the Lifeline program, which helps the poor and the lonely to pay for the mobile service and the Internet. Nobody wants fraud, the program is busy because of its size and its multitude of subcontractors, but the changes made to the program "will simply forget too many communities on the wrong side of the fracture digital ", according to Rosenworcel Put it.

Commissioner Rosenworcel at his confirmation hearing.

To continue on the president's list, an effort to expand Pai's noted telemedicine infrastructure is of course commendable, as connectivity becomes increasingly critical for effective and accessible treatment.

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But if we can applaud the program itself, it is hard to forget that telemedicine has been treated in an insincere way in the net neutrality debate; Proponents of the repeal argued that network neutrality interfered one way or another with the transfer of medical data by placing it at the same level, in terms Internet architecture, only videos of cats. This easily refuted FUD was characteristic of the deceptive nature of many other arguments.

Pai boasts of his 20 trips related to the deployment of broadband, and of course, it is good to have boots on the ground when it comes to local problems like this. But as the dissident commissioners pointed out during the December vote, he did exactly the zero of those trips to ask ordinary people what they thought of the proposal to eliminate net neutrality. . A town hall or two could have been a sobering experience, and might even have improved people's ideas on the new rule.

Curiously, Pai fondly recalls that he: "put an end to a survey in 2016 of free data offers from mobile operators.These free data plans have proved popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have increased competition in the wireless market. "

On the one hand, who would congratulate the agency for abandoning an investigation (one of them, by the way) that its duty to accomplish? Especially when the plans in question were deliberately distorted? The popularity of the schemes is irrelevant considering that they are opt-out, not opt-in. Many consumers probably do not know that they even use one. Not only that, but these tax-free practices sound innocuous but are fundamentally paid in order of priority.

The decision to roll back the net neutrality rules of 2015 is clearly mentioned, of course, with the usual talking points. We covered at length this particular disaster.

Under the title "Protecting Consumers", Pai mentions some effective measures taken against automated calls and misleading billing – something that millions of people around the country know about regularly.

Curiously, the joint efforts of the FCC Congress to throw out a series of new privacy regulations were not on the President's list. Maybe he forgot that one.

Americans with disabilities have not been forgotten and efforts have been made to improve the regulation of hearing aids and to promote the quality and availability of video relay services used primarily by the deaf, as well as content video for the blind. But little attention has been paid to the ongoing ugliness around the prison call and the rackets built around this lucrative business.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017

Notably, all of these priorities were those of Commissioner Clyburn (above), who made the following statement when I asked her for her opinion on the FCC's first year of the FCC:

During the first year of this administration, I was delighted that the President pursue several of my priorities, including Phase II of the Mobility Fund, Connect2Health and the increase of the amount of video description available for blind or visually impaired. At the same time, make no mistake, the majority of the FCC under the leadership of this president, has given the green light to more than a dozen actions that directly attack consumers and small businesses, including net neutrality, dismantling broadband protections and eliminating key media ownership rules. It is these anti-consumer actions that are most revealing of the direction this agency is taking.

The President is proud to have established a rule under which the items to be voted are made available to the public three weeks before this vote. This is certainly an improvement, although it can lead to misunderstandings when changes are made during and after this period.

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But increased transparency at this level seems trivial alongside the choice to obscure much more important things, such as the nature of the cyberattack suffered during the period of restitution of Internet freedom, or the preponderance of false comments deposited. Fortunately, Congress and nearly two dozen attorneys general are on the case. And again, transparency is something better lived in person, which, when it came to the rule of net neutrality, was something that its proponents avoided.

Pai is making much of the FCC's response to the widespread blackout of connectivity in Puerto Rico following an unusually intense hurricane season. And indeed, he finally visited the island and set aside $ 77 million – for carriers – to help restore service there and in the US Virgin Islands.

But few would say that the FCC has succeeded or even fulfilled its homework. I spoke to the recovery staff and the people working to restore communication there, and they had mostly abandoned the hope of timely federal help. Aside from the president's many blunders and diplomatic missteps, the FCC's response left much to be desired, with more than half of the population still disconnected several weeks after the disaster.

While infrastructure patches are slow in coming, some PR residents are turning to mesh networks

Of course, this can not be fully written on the FCC plate, but it seems misleading to highlight a too small and too late response as an "accomplishment".

Meanwhile, the agency is courting the major cable and broadband service providers with a series of decisions that are disguised as "modernizing outdated regulations."

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In an era of unprecedented consolidation of media properties and the many obvious and subtle risks that flow from them, the FCC has decided to relax the rules governing the ownership of several information properties and the national scope. from a media company. As usual, the age of the rule is quoted and Pai finds that it has "survived its usefulness". Commissioner Rosenworcel rather disagrees:

Instead of engaging in a thoughtful reform – which we should do – this agency sets fire to its most fundamental values. They left. As a result of this decision, wherever you live, the FCC gives the green light to a single company that owns the newspaper and multiple television and radio stations in your community. I find it hard to see any commitment to diversity, localism or competition in this result.

We have come to the point where members of Congress are clearly asking if the FCC is working to specifically benefit from a single large media company, Sinclair, at a high price for local media and of course consumers.

This article is by no means a complete list of what the FCC has done, both good and bad, in good faith and bad, over the past year. I mean to illustrate that the year was a year when a lot of small achievements were recorded – but not only greater efforts and anti-consumer trends, but public confidence in the agency has been eroded substantially.

Prior to 2015, few Americans knew much about the FCC or considered it to have much effect on their daily lives (although this was the case at the time) . But net neutrality has put on the map in a big way – and a good way, except of course among the allies of the telecommunications industry.

In 2017, the FCC reduced this presence to a plague, with millions of Americans feeling ignored or actively worked, and an agency once known to quietly fulfill its goal turned into a hunt for partisan interests and corporate.

Featured Image: Alex Wong / Getty Images