CWA: FCC takes three giant steps backward

Federal Communications Commission's Republican majority took three giant steps backward, adopting policies that will lead to the loss of good jobs, reduce the quality of local news across the nation, and widen the digital divide.

First, in the wireline broadband Order, the FCC Republican majority eviscerated rules that protect consumers when incumbent carriers retire copper landlines. The FCC eliminated advance notice requirements to retail customers for copper-to-fiber upgrades, deleted protections against "de facto" copper retirement due to lack of maintenance, and downgraded the definition of service to a community.

We’ve already seen the dangers that can happen when carriers don’t consider how change in service impacts a community -- just ask residents of Fire Island, NY. That's where Verizon replaced damaged landlines with wireless service that didn’t work with health monitors, alarms, fax machines, and equipment for the hearing impaired. The FCC’s radical plan puts millions of Americans, particularly in rural areas, at risk for the same disruption of critical communications services.

Second, in the broadcast ownership Order, the FCC Republican majority opened the door to massive media consolidation, threatening the production of diverse news and information that is the bedrock of our democracy while putting out a welcome mat to the pending Sinclair-Tribune mega-merger. At one fell swoop, the FCC eliminated the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule, struck down the prohibition on TV mergers that result in fewer than eight independent local media outlets, severely weakened the prohibition against common ownership of more than one of the top four TV stations in a local market, and made it easier for broadcasters to skirt the few remaining local ownership rules with joint sales agreements.

Third, in the Lifeline Notice, the FCC Republican majority opened a proceeding that will gut the Lifeline program, which is a critical effort to help low-income households afford Internet access. Limiting Lifeline support to facilities-based providers and imposing an unnecessary budget cap will reduce participation and, moving forward, may prevent Lifeline-eligible households from participating. It is clear that the Republican majority is more interested in attacking a successful program that helps nearly 13 million low-income Americans than in closing the digital divide.

There was broad opposition to the FCC's actions. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and other consumer and civil rights groups decried the actions. Their statements are collected here. In addition, five Democratic US senators wrote FCC Chairman Pai a letter asking him to consider the effects of his Lifeline proposal on veterans and citizens more broadly. "The Lifeline program is a critical tool which helps connect low-income veterans and their families to the services they need," the letter read.


CWA: FCC Takes Three Giant Steps Backward (CWA, Nov. 16, 2017)

Civil and Human Rights Coalition Decries FCC Rollback on Democratic Participation (LCCHR, Nov. 16, 2017)

US Democratic senators letter to Pai on Lifeline (US Senate, Nov. 15, 2017)