A federal appeals court overturned Ajit Pai and his FCC’s attempt to make it far more difficult for tribal residents to get the subsidies needed to afford broadband internet access through the Lifeline program. Last Friday’s decision overturns a move begun by Pai to gut the Lifeline program a little over a year ago. Back in November of 2017, Pai and his two other Republican telecom shills voted to gut the Lifeline services, potentially throwing off up to 70 percent of the people on it . It was a classic conservative use of double speak, with Pai speaking loudly about wanting to bridge the digital divide—a term used to talk about the growing chasm between the haves and have nots in the broadband internet access networks across the country, while trying to get rid of the only programs helping to bridge that gap.
Pai’s FCC wasn’t able to implement their decision this very same appeals court stayed its application under an appeal could be made and heard. Pai’s FCC wanted to limit Lifeline’s $25 subsidy to “facilities-based telecommunications providers,” meaning only the telecoms that own and run the broadband infrastructure—after taking billions in tax breaks—would be able to sell residents subsidized broadband. A major problem here is that these companies are not interested in selling to the poorer areas of our country, and the subsidies in the Lifeline are not enough to entice them. Instead, a market of “resellers,” businesses that are able to buy broadband capacity from the facilities-based telecoms and resell them to others, has sprung up to provide the only true avenue for millions of Americans. Around 70 percent of the Americans using the Lifeline subsidize program get their broadband access from these very resellers that Pai and the FCC were about to ban.
As Ars Technica reports this decision overturns not only the attempt to screw residents on tribal lands, but also urban residents who too would have lost out on the $25 subsidy.
From the court’s decision:
For the following reasons, we grant the petitions for review. The Commission’s adoption of these two limitations was arbitrary and capricious by not providing a reasoned explanation for its change of policy that is supported by record evidence. In adopting the Tribal Facilities Requirement, the Commission’s decision evinces no consideration of the exodus of facilities-based providers from the Tribal Lifeline program. Neither does it point to evidence that banning resellers from the Tribal Lifeline program would promote network buildout. Nor does it analyze the impact of the facilities requirement on Tribal residents who currently rely on wireless resellers. Further, the Commission ignored that its decision is a fundamental change that adversely affects the access and affordability of service for residents of Tribal lands. Similarly, in adopting the Tribal Rural Limitation, the Commission’s decision evinces no consideration of the impact on service access and affordability. Its decision does not examine wireless deployment data related to services to which most Tribal Lifeline recipients subscribe.
Various non-harmless procedural deficiencies exist as well. The Commission failed to provide an adequate opportunity for comment on the proposed limitations. For instance, the 2017 supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking lacked key information needed for interested persons to anticipate that small towns below 10,000 in population would be excluded. Because the Commission stated that it intended to address remaining Tribal issues in a future rulemaking, petitioners reasonably did not submit current data on abandonment of the Lifeline program by facilities-based providers. Two weeks’ notice in the form of an unpublished draft order was inadequate.
To put that into layman’s terms, the decision is saying in the nicest way possible, that Pai and his republican buddies Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, seem to have whimsically and without any real thought, come up with a plan that would completely denigrate the very nature of the program they are charged to uphold. On top of that, not unlike Pai’s cartoonish dictatorial Net Neutrality comments period, the FCC did not give anyone adequate time to comment and point out how myopic and terrible a decision it would be. The Lifeline program is one of the best things that the FCC has ever done. It’s the reason the Obama-era FCC worked to expand it, and its noble mission also seems to be exactly why Ajit Pai and Trump’s FCC want to destroy it.