Pai’s FCC continues policy approach: giveaways for Sinclair, attacks on the poor

FCC Chairman Pai released a busy November agenda. In addition to items concerning robocalls and spectrum bands, Pai announced plans to gut current media ownership rules – a gift to media company executives – and attack the Lifeline program. The plans cement the first year of Pai’s tenure – giveaways for massive media corporations like Sinclair and constant attacks on the poor.

Despite lawmakers’ questions about Chairman Pai showing favoritism toward media giant Sinclair, Pai directed the FCC to continue gutting broadcast ownership regulations. The FCC released an Order on Reconsideration to eliminate the newspaper/broadcast and radio/television cross-ownership rules – which guard against one media company monopolizing news in a community. He also proposed eliminating the attribution rule for television joint service agreements, removing what little accountability remains surrounding the job-killing, rule-skirting practice. Media company owners will be thrilled.

On the same day, Pai began his newest assault on the Lifeline program, a $9.25 per month subsidy program to help poor households afford phone or broadband service. It’s a vital program to address the high cost of broadband service and close the digital divide, which Pai claims is a priority of his. And yet, the Trump-appointed chairman has proposed to target Lifeline funds to facilities-based networks, even as most Lifeline recipients opt for mobile service. In short, Pai is attempting to hollow out the program. He also wants to impose a cap to weaken the program and address “waste, fraud, and abuse” allegations that have been raised and debunked for years.

“Chairman Pai has tried to subject the Lifeline program to a death by a thousand cuts, but he’s now moved to an outright assault,” said Rep. Pallone (D-NJ) in a statement. “Struggling families across the country depend on this program, this proposal would rip the phones from their hands.  He must know how deeply dangerous this proposal is, otherwise he would have mentioned his proposal during the Committee’s oversight hearing yesterday.  This is another unfortunate example of the FCC trying to avoid congressional oversight when it chooses to act against the people it is sworn to help. Chairman Pai should realize these tactics will not work and we will fight to stop this brutal plan.”

Chairman Pai likes to talk about the public interest and closing the digital divide, but his actions betray his words. It’s clear his interests are gutting regulations to enrich media company owners at the cost of the public while attacking programs to help low-income families.

The Communications Workers of America has fought media ownership consolidation – including the Sinclair-Tribune merger – and advocated for Lifeline modernization for a decade.

 

Links:

An Energetic November (FCC, Oct. 26, 2017)

Review of the Commission’s Broadcast Ownership Rules, Joint Sales Agreements, and Shared Service Agreements, and Comment Sought on an Incubator Program (FCC, Oct. 26, 2017)

Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers (FCC, Oct. 26, 2017)

Attacks on Lifeline defeated in Congress (Speed Matters, June 23, 2016)

Democratic lawmakers rebuke Chairman Pai’s attack on Lifeline (Speed Matters, Feb. 17, 2017)

New report debunks claims of Lifeline fraud (Speed Matters, July 22, 2016)

Pallone Pans Pai’s Lifeline Proposal (E&C Democrats, Oct. 27, 2017)