The Federal Communications Commission voted today to eliminate price caps on broadband services for businesses, schools, libraries, and hospitals, known as Business Data Services (BDS). The argument advanced by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, and the big telecoms who wanted this rule repealed, was that there is already “sufficient competition” in this market, and these price caps were getting in the way of the beautiful free market doing its thing. (As Motherboard noted, the Obama-era FCC pointed to research showing that 97 percent of BDS locations are served by just two providers, which doesn’t sound a lot like sufficient competition.) Without price caps and competition, incumbent providers can charge as much as they want to schools and libraries, who of course have been getting a free ride on providing internet to children for too long. Even freedom-loving Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton asked the FCC to slow their roll on this proposal.
This is just the latest of a truly impressive series of terrible decisions by Pai, all done with a smile on his face and the song of liberty in his heart. In just three months, he’s managed to fuck up a lot of stuff. Here’s what he’s been busy doing.
Making it harder for the poor to get broadband
In March, Pai announced he would direct the FCC to eliminate the federal designation process for broadband providers under the LifeLine program, which provides subsidized phone and internet access for the poor. Doing so makes it incredibly hard for broadband providers to sign up for the program, which was only expanded to broadband last year; there are currently no states that actually have this approval process in place.
Eroding net neutrality
While his big secret plan to repeal net neutrality regulations is still a big secret, Pai has already acted to erode some net neutrality principles. In February, Pai dropped an investigation started by Obama’s FCC into “zero-rating” deals, where carriers don’t count certain content towards customers’ data caps. That could either be content produced by carriers themselves, like with AT&T and DirectTV, or it could be content produced by advertisers who strike special deals with carriers. Net neutrality proponents consider this dangerous: the Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that “‘pay for play’ arrangements favor big content providers who can afford to pay for access to users’ eyeballs, and marginalize those who can’t, such as nonprofits, startups, and fellow users.” Pai dropping that investigation indicates that the new FCC is a-ok with that kind of deal, and likely with further erosions of net neutrality principles.
Scrapping restrictions on rates for prison phone calls
Under Obama, the FCC had pushed prisons to lower the rates prisoners pay for phone calls. Pai reversed that policy, instructing the commission not to defend that policy, with the deputy general counsel saying the majority “does not believe that the agency has the authority to cap intrastate rates.”
Rolling back internet privacy & security rules
While the final nail in the coffin for the FCC’s privacy rules came from Congress, not the FCC, Pai did manage to get a truly awful decision in first. In March, he blocked the implementation of a rule that would have required internet service providers to take “reasonable measures” to secure customers’ data, part of the larger package of privacy rules that Congress voted to erase. Pai, finding the notion of reasonable measures unreasonable, blocked the rule.
The dingus tweeted about how much he loved Amazon Prime, possibly violating an ethics rule preventing government employees from promoting any product or service. What an idiot.