Options are running out for net neutrality supporters

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has released a gloating statement after Democrats failed to invalidate the pompously named ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ order, making the path for net neutrality much rockier.

In June last year, net neutrality was officially struck from the FCC rulebook as the ink dried on the aforementioned order. There has been much protest and opposition to the rules, and while there are still routes to restore the Tom Wheeler-era rules, the number of options are getting smaller. With a new Session of Congress now in play, the path of invalidation is now closed.

As the rules were passed during the previous Session, the Democrats had a limited amount of time to try and invalidate the ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ order passed by Pai and his Republican Commissioner cronies. Unfortunately for the net neutrality supporters, the 218 votes required in the Senate was a step too far. By close of play on January 2, only 182 votes, the majority of whom where Democrat, were mustered.

“I’m pleased that a strong bipartisan majority of the US House of Representatives declined to reinstate heavy-handed Internet regulation,” said Pai. “They did the right thing – especially considering the positive results for American consumers since the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. Over the past year, the Internet has remained free and open.

“In short, the FCC’s light-touch approach is working. In 2019, we’ll continue to pursue our forward-looking agenda to bring digital opportunity to all Americans.”

What does this mean for net neutrality? There is still a route back for the rules, though it is becoming increasingly difficult.

Invalidating the rules was the simplest option, though the Democrats only had one shot at this. A new Session sets the rules in play, though there are other routes, both legal and regulatory.

On the legal side of things, there are still challenges being made to the ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ order by numerous companies, consumer groups and Attorney Generals throughout the US. While many of the lawsuits are fundamentally arguing the same point, albeit with various different nuances, the courts will be asked to rule on one area in particular; whether the individual States can enforce their own localised legislation on net neutrality.

Central to this conundrum is California. Having agreed to delay the implementation of its own net neutrality rules in the State, judges will have to ponder the age-old debate of Federal vs. State. This is where it gets very complicated; as the internet is not a localised ‘service’, can California guarantee it will only impose the rules on traffic which is restricted to its borders? Should traffic traverse the cables elsewhere, the State has no right to implement net neutrality rules. This is a concept which is stated in the US Constitution.

On the regulatory front, the Democrats could attempt to force through new legislation which would supersede the ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ order, in the same was this order did to net neutrality. This would be complicated as you have to suspect the Democrats to not have enough bodies in the room to drive through a majority.

All of the options remaining for the net neutrality supporters are time coming however, which is a factor which will certainly work against them. Pai can take his time and attempt to prolong the issue, as the longer it takes to resolve the less interest the general public and other politicians will have. We are fickle people, we get bored easily, and politicians are as shallow as we are fickle. If net neutrality is no longer getting the necessary amount of attention in the press, less enthused politicians will find a new cause to champion in pursuit of PR points.

The net neutrality battle is not over, but, unfortunately, Pai is winning.

Net neutrality’s last life kept intact by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has rejected attempts by the telco industry and the Trump administration to completely erase net neutrality rules from the lawbooks.

With petitions filed by AT&T and various industry lobby groups to quash a ruling made in favour of the Obama-era net neutrality rules in 2015, a ruling which is the only glimmer of hope for net neutrality’s survival, the Supreme Court offered a lifeline. It seems rolling back net neutrality is not enough for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, as the Republican is seemingly attempting to destroy any future attempts to reinstate the rules, which the 2015 District Court ruling holds.

While Pai and his cronies have effected taken the US back to the light-touch regulatory playing field of 2015, moves made by his predecessor Tom Wheeler to reclassify the internet service providers still stood. In passing net neutrality rules, Wheeler classified ISPs in the same league as telephony providers, and therefore under stricter regulation. This decision was upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which AT&T, NCTA, CTIA, USTelecom, and the American Cable Association were challenging here.

The presence of this case might not have any impact on the telcos today, though it would offer any future administration, who might be pro-net neutrality, a foundation to rebuilt the walls of regulation. Pai doesn’t just want to remove the rules, he wants to drive the concept of net neutrality to extinction with no prospect of return.

This ruling however, is a win for the net neutrality camp, a rare one which just might add enough momentum to sustain life until a change in administration.

“This is good news for net neutrality supporters,” said John Bergmayer, Senior Counsel at Public Knowledge, a pro-net neutrality lobby group which is also suing the FCC for the initial roll back. “The DC Circuit’s previous decision upholding both the FCC’s classification of broadband as a telecommunications service, and its rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or degrading internet content, remains in place.

“While the current FCC has repealed those rules – a decision Public Knowledge is currently challenging in court – this means that the previous decision is binding on the current FCC, and on the DC Circuit panel that hears the current challenge. Much of the current FCC’s argument depends on ignoring or contradicting the D.C. Circuit’s earlier findings, but now that these are firmly established as binding law, the Pai FCC’s case is on even weaker ground than before.”

The NCTA, the Internet and Television Association, is unsurprisingly miffed with the decision.

“It is not surprising that the Supreme Court declined to hear this case dealing with the Wheeler FCC’s 2015 Order,” the NCTA said in a statement. “Once the current FCC repealed the 2015 Order, almost all parties – including NCTA – agreed that the case was moot. Today’s decision is not an indication of the Court’s views on the merits but simply reflects the fact that there was nothing left for the Court to rule on.”

It seems the absence of two Republican Supreme Court judges was the deciding factor here. The newly, and controversially, appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh removed himself from the process, having participated in the judgement of the original appeal, while Chief Justice John Roberts supposedly owns shares in AT&T.

For the pro-net neutrality supporters this was a critical win in the courts. Firstly, for the rules to be reinstated the classification as telcos as common providers is a must, though momentum was gathering for Pai and his cronies in the blood-thirsty mission.

This is not to say net neutrality camp is not without its support, but with President Trump adding his weight to the hunting trip, the pressure was starting to build. Another factor is precedent. The legal community use decisions made elsewhere in the industry for guidance, and there were a lot of decisions going against net neutrality over the last few months. Momentum was building and the issue is becoming increasingly politicised. The light was fading, though the 2015 decision being upheld is a win.

Whether this decision acts as a catalyst for net neutrality momentum and support remains to be seen, though California’s challenge to the FCC is still hanging in the balance. After signing its own net neutrality rules in State Law, despite contradictions with federal agency positions, California has decided to put the implementation of the rules on-hold until it has resolved its own lawsuit with the Department of Justice which argues the state has acted unconstitutionally.

Elsewhere around the US, various states are lining up their own, local, net neutrality rules. Washington State has already signed its own into law, while states such as Hawaii and New York are seemingly waiting for various rulings. While the approach might be broadly similar, there will be differences in each state. This patch-work of regulatory environment is something the US government is very keen to avoid, and it would turn into an operational disaster for the telcos.

In a separate lawsuit, 23 Attorney Generals throughout the US, including Maine, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Delaware, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, are challenging the original 3-2 decision made by the FCC to roll back the net neutrality rules. The criss-cross of lawsuits, each of which relies somewhat on another decision and precedent, is starting to become complicated.

The dominos are certainly lining up across the US, each decision may send the entire stack into freefall. The weight of each ruling is getting heavier and heavier.

Pai declares California resistance to net neutrality demise as illegal

Speaking to an audience at the Maine Heritage Policy Center, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has slammed California for even thinking about going against his holier-than-thou word on net neutrality.

It’s a divisive topic which doesn’t seem to want to go away, but Pai and his cronies can’t have imagined there would be this much of a backlash against the demise of federal net neutrality rules. Resistance was bound to be expected, though it now appears the disagreement is about to escalate into another state versus federal battle ground.

“The broader problem is that California’s micromanagement poses a risk to the rest of the country,” said Pai. “After all, broadband is an interstate service; Internet traffic doesn’t recognize state lines. It follows that only the federal government can set regulatory policy in this area. For if individual states like California regulate the Internet, this will directly impact citizens in other states.”

While this statement reeks of PR, Pai is not incorrect. The internet industry is a beast which rarely recognises international borders, take the Silicon Valley approach to taxes as an example, so how destructive will it be if all states take their own approach to regulating the digital highway? This is not to say Pai is correct in creating a digital wild west where the FCC has as much influence over the telcos as a dog over its tail, but in protesting the FCC’s position California is creating an immensely complicated landscape.

This will be of little concern to the righteous individuals leading the net neutrality charge, though the state versus federal undertone seems as if it is about to bubble to the surface.

“Among other reasons, this is why efforts like California’s are illegal,” said Pai. “In fact, just last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reaffirmed the well-established law that state regulation of information services is pre-empted by federal law. Last December, the FCC made clear that broadband is just such an information service.”

In the latest version of the Communications Act, the legislation which is the bedrock for all telecommunications regulation in the US, there is a clause which dictates any state-level rules which contradicts the position of the FCC are invalid. This is not to say states cannot put forward their own rules, but these rules can only impact activity in the state. As the internet is borderless, and it is almost unthinkable to contain traffic in an individual state, California cannot pass any new rules without undermining this clause.

And while California has received the attention of Pai in this speech, it is not the only state providing resistance. Washington is another which has passed its own regulation, though California’s hasn’t been signed into law just yet. California Governor Jerry Brown is reportedly yet to sign on the dotted line, perhaps delaying the state versus federal clash.

One question which is yet to be answered is what will happen if California is allowed to pass its own net neutrality laws. As it directly undermines the Communications Act, does that not invalidate the rest of the legislation? Will it open the door for a colourful quilt of dozens of different interpretations of different internet regulations? Precedent is a powerful trend in the legal community; if this contradiction is allowed, why shouldn’t other states have a go at creating localised laws in other areas?

This might be a net neutrality argument right now, though it has the potential to undermine the FCC authority everywhere else. Pai needs to tread carefully here.

US Congress asks Pai why he keeps ignoring its letters

The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, one of the illustrious commissions of the US Congress, has written to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asking why he is continuing to ignore communications from elected representatives.

The letter itself expresses appreciation for Pai’s willingness to testify in front of the committee, but asks why he is evasive with answers, refuses to address certain questions or even acknowledge the question in the first place. Attached to the communication is a collection of letters from various members of congress Pai asking for explanations or action on some very important matters, unfortunately the Chairman has not found the time or inclination to respond for some reason.

“As members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, we are concerned about your repeated evasive responses to our inquiries and your outright refusal to respond to some members of this Committee,” the letter reads.

Using his own words against him, Pai has been reminded by the committee he has a responsibility to answer to congress, and has subsequently been given until June 4 to respond. Whether he does is another matter. So what has Pai been ignoring?

  • On March 22 2017, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congresswomen Anna Eshoo requested an investigation into an outage of 911 emergency services for AT&T wireless customers
  • Congressman Mike Doyle wrote to Pai on April 24 2017 requesting information on a number of meeting Pai had with US telcos prior to kick-starting the net neutrality extinction process. Pai said the content of the discussions was not relevant, refusing to comment, however Doyle’s follow-up has gone without response
  • On May 2 2017, several members of Congress asked what the FCC was doing to identify the companies and influencers sponsoring content on RT (formerly Russia Today). The letter arrived at the FCC following reports Russian actors had been influencing the US election. After going unanswered, Congresswomen Eshoo, who had signed the initial request, followed up with a second, which also remained unanswered. Eshoo made a third attempt at getting more insight in a letter which was co-signed by eight other members of Congress. Eshoo, Pallone and Doyle followed up with a fourth letter in September following more reports the Russian government influenced the US election.
  • On May 11 2017 Congressman Doyle and Congressman Frank Pallone asked Pai, as well as FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Reilly, to extend the deadline for public consultation on net neutrality, after it had been conveniently set in August when many students and small business owners would be on holiday. In June, Doyle and Pallone followed up this letter, alongside several other members of Congress, questioning the security and preparedness of the FCC website, which was struggling to deal with the number of comments on the net neutrality issues. 22 members of Congress also signed a letter on February 13 asked for an explanation on how the FCC dealt with the fake comments which appeared during the public consultation period, among other things
  • Congressman Bobby Rush wrote on August 17 2017 to outline concerns over changes to the Lifeline Broadband Programme. Applicants were told to apply for the grants through individual state commissions as opposed to federal offices, though these state commissions are unable to grant any designations because of FCC rule 54.201(j). Congresswomen Doris Matsui was another who wrote over concerns about the FCC ending the Lifeline programme on August 22 2017
  • Favourable treatment of the Sinclair Broadcast Group with its acquisitions and licensing business was another area of focus in a letter from Congressman Pallone on August 14 2017. Letters focusing on developments here were sent by multiple members of Congress on August 14, September 29, November 8 2017 in addition
  • On August 15 2017, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congresswomen Eshoo wrote to Pai requesting updates to rules and protections for workers who may be at risk from radiofrequency radiation. This letter followed similar requests to the FCC in 2015 and 2013, though Pai cannot be blamed in those circumstances
  • Congressman Pallone also wrote to Pai on October 6 to request a review on the resiliency of the wireless network in light of several natural disasters
  • Congresswomen Debbie Dingell wrote on November 8 2017 to ask how broadcast technology standard ATSC 3.0 allowed advertisers and broadcasters to collect personal information for targeted advertising, and what the FCC was doing to protect consumer privacy
  • On November 15 2017, Congressman Pallone asked Pai to reconsider FCC moves to remove assistance for poorer families in accessing broadband. On the same day, 31 members of Congress also penned a letter requesting the Lifeline programme for tribal communities be maintained. Congressman Peter Welch was another who wrote in favour of the Lifeline programme on January 22 2018
  • On March 26 2018, Congressmen Doyle and Pallone wrote to Pai asking for an explanation as to why he thought it was appropriate to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference when he is supposed to be leading an independent agency
  • On April 5 2018, three members of Congress asked what Pai and the FCC was doing to combat the rise in ‘stingrays’, which could be used for espionage
  • On April 6 2018, Congresswomen Dingell requested an investigation to understand how the Cambridge Analytica scandal might have impacted the 2016 Presidential election

Perhaps this is a new form of management which Pai is trying out; all the stuff which is difficult to deal with, just ignore it. Like parking fines, Pai could blame the US Postal Service and simply say he didn’t get the letter.

FCC votes 3-2 to reverse its previous net neutrality framework

As expected the US Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to push through the controversial repeal of its net neutrality framework.

The final phase was put in motion last month and there was a supposed consultation, but since there are an odd number of FCC Commissioners and the majority of them, including Chairman Pai, are republican, it was only ever going to go one way. As with so much public discourse in the US, this partisanship has spread to the rest of the country and there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

You can spend the rest of your life reading an endless sequence of rants, polemics and thinly-disguised on the matter if you want, but because it’s a Friday afternoon and the pub beckons, we’ll restrict ourselves to the dispute within the FCC.

“This decision was a mistake,” said Pai in his supporting statement, in reference to 2015 decision he had just reversed. “For one thing, there was no problem to solve. The Internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia. To the contrary, the Internet is perhaps the one thing in American society we can all agree has been a stunning success.

“Not only was there no problem, this ‘solution’ hasn’t worked. The main complaint consumers have about the Internet is not and has never been that their Internet service provider is blocking access to content. It’s that they don’t have access at all or enough competition. These regulations have taken us in the opposite direction from these consumer preferences.”

“This is a great day for consumers, for innovation, and for freedom,” said Commissioner Brandan Carr. “We are reversing the Obama-era FCC’s unprecedented decision to apply Title II regulations to the Internet. I am proud to help end this two-year experiment with heavy-handed regulation – this massive regulatory overreach.”

“For those of you out there who are fearful of what tomorrow may bring, please take a deep breath,” said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. “This decision will not break the Internet.  What we are doing is reverting back to the highly-successful, bipartisan, governmental approach that existed before.”

“I dissent, because I am among the millions outraged,” said Commissioner Mignon Cyburn. “Outraged, because the FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers. Some may ask why are we witnessing such an unprecedented groundswell of public support, for keeping the 2015 net neutrality protections in place?

“Because the public can plainly see, that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC, is handing the keys to the Internet – the Internet, one of the most remarkable, empowering, enabling inventions of our lifetime – over to a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations. And if past is prologue, those very same broadband internet service providers, that the majority says you should trust to do right by you, will put profits and shareholder returns above, what is best for you.”

“Net neutrality is internet freedom,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “I support that freedom. I dissent from this rash decision to roll back net neutrality rules. I dissent from the corrupt process that has brought us to this point. And I dissent from the contempt this agency has shown our citizens in pursuing this path today. This decision puts the Federal Communications Commission on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”

There you have it. The only unanimity seems to be that the internet is important. The Republican view seems to be that this means it should be free from state control and the Democrat view seems to be that it should be protected from the market by the state. Of those two we find the former more compelling, but only if there is real competition in the US ISP market, which remains up for debate.

US net neutrality protests set for Dec 7

Unsurprisingly, Verizon and AT&T have both agreed the FCC is heading the right direction by hitting the net neutrality rewind button, but consumer groups are fuelling the fire by encouraging protests on December 7.

Demand Progress, a net neutrality advocate, has called for demonstrations at Verizon stores on December 7 to protest FCC moves to scale back net neutrality rules. The net neutrality debate has been one which has caused quite a stir in the States, and considering the diva nature of American politics and privacy advocates, it is going to continue for some time.

While net neutrality is a contentious issue, the argument has been taken up a level in the US. Some might argue this is primarily down to the partisan nature of American politics, as the argument hasn’t escalated in this manner elsewhere. The FCC is probably not right in completely scaling back regulations, however the prior administration was probably not right in such heavy-handed rules. The answer will lie somewhere in the middle, but try telling that to American politicians who would rather denounce opposition than find a logical solution which works for the industry and the consumer.

“Internet users outraged by Verizon-lawyer-turned-FCC-Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to gut net neutrality are planning to protest at Verizon retail stores across the country on Thursday, December 7th, one week before an expected vote at the FCC. In some cities, protesters will march from Verizon stores to lawmakers’ offices,” Demand Progress has written on its website.

Demand Progress is not the only organization which has found issue with the new proposals either. Google, Facebook and Netflix have all put out statements frowning at Pai’s recipe for regulation, and of course the general public has made its voice heard, as you can see below.

net neutrality four Net neutrality one net neutrality three net neutrality two

But before the FCC is painted with a broad Republican brush, it is always worth remembering the debate rages internally as well. Having contributed to the creation of the net neutrality rules, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is seemingly able to do nothing but sit and watch her work being dismantled by Pai.

“Following actions earlier this year to erase consumer privacy protections, the Commission now wants to wipe out court-tested rules and a decade’s work in order to favour cable and telephone companies,” said Rosenworcel. “This is ridiculous and offensive to the millions of Americans who use the Internet every day.”

On the other side of the coin, the telcos are clearly pleased with the move, though this is hardly a surprise.

“We’re very encouraged by Chairman Pai’s announcement today that the FCC will move forward next month to restore the successful light-touch regulatory framework for internet services,” said Kathy Grillo, Verizon Deputy General Counsel, Public Policy and Government Affairs. “For decades, the internet flourished under a bipartisan regulatory approach that allowed it to operate, grow and succeed free of unnecessary government controls.”

AT&T were equally as thrilled with the proposal. Here are the thoughts of Joan Marsh, AT&T Executive Vice President of Regulatory & State External Affairs.

“Abandoning decades of prudent, bipartisan regulatory restraint, the Wheeler FCC took the draconian step of dragging broadband access services into the morass of common carriage regulation, imposing a new conduct standard that effectively gave the FCC a blank check to shut down innovative new ISP services that consumers want based on little more than speculative concerns.

“While we look forward to reading the details of the order, this action will return broadband in the U.S. to a regulatory regime that emphasizes private investment and innovation over lumbering government intervention, ending the regulatory uncertainty created by the 2015 rules and the deleterious impact such uncertainty had on investment and job creation.”

Don’t expect this debate to end any time soon. Before too long you can expect to see a host of lawsuits attempting to prevent the removal of the rules, as is usually the course of action in the US. Before too long someone might have that eureka moment, realizing the right answer is somewhere in the middle of lefty regulation and righty market freedoms.

FCC tries to remove Lifeline for poor people

What have poor people done to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai? Perhaps he misread his job description, as the latest move from the FCC would seem to geared towards widening the digital divide.

This week the FCC voted to scale back the federal Lifeline programme, an initiative which assists poorer families in accessing the digital world. It started with, telephone service but was rolled out to broadband last year. While a $9.25 subsidy might not sound like a lot, for those who live on the breadline, it probably means the difference between internet and no internet. That said, Pai has seemingly decided the world of social media, online banking and cat videos is not for poor people.

The changes include a spending cap, which could mean those who qualify for the subsidy would not receive it, and also a ban on resellers offering the subsidy as part of a deal. Essentially, only those who own their own infrastructure would be allowed to offer the subsidy, which could result in countless families have to cancel their current subscription.

The ban for resellers is currently out for public comment, but it would effectively reduce competition and push consumers towards the established players; AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile USA, and Sprint. According to Public Knowledge, an advocacy group trying to bridge the digital divide, 70% of those on the Lifeline programme get their internet through such resellers. Perhaps some will not be able to find a carrier in their area which offers the subsidy. Apparently they will just have to go without the internet.

Pai seems to be sending a very clear message; the internet and the digital world is not for poor people. Bad poor people, stay away from my internet. Be richer and then I’ll let you into my club.

Republican Commissioners have pointed towards a Government Accountability Office report which highlighted that fraud was commonplace within the Lifeline programme, but surely this report was supposed to suggest the FCC should sort out its processes. Some enrolments were filed in the names of dead people, which does suggest there are nefarious characters out there, but also internal processes are pretty poor. We can’t imagine the intended result was to scrap the scheme and exclude poor people from the internet.

Of course, the voting went exactly as you would expect. The Republican Commissioners voting with Pai and his mission to keep the poor in their place, while the Democrats voted against. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was clearly not happy, unleashing a stream of tweets, blasting Pai and his quest to cleanse the internet of the unworthy.

Naturally, Clyburn and her cronies are going to try and make the situation as awkward as possible for Pai and his journey to rid the digital society of lesser humans, but we have some sympathy here. The Democrats have spent the last couple of years building the FCC in their own image, and Pai is chopping it down piece-by-piece. All Clyburn can do is watch and tweet.

Clyburn Tweet Clyburn tweet 3 Clyburn tweet 2

Why did I miss American Pai?

The star speaker on the final day of Broadband World Forum 2017 was supposed to be FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, but he ended up blowing it out.

No explanation was offered by super-sub Don Stockdale – Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at the FCC – only that Pai expressed his regrets. Stockdale delivered a perfectly good keynote but we will never know whether Trump appointee Pai, who hasn’t been shy about creating headlines in his brief time in charge, would have made any contentious comments.

The essence of Stockdale’s presentation was that the current version of the FCC is all about light-touch regulation – trying to give the private sector as many tools as possible to do its thing and then getting out of the way. This philosophy manifests itself in three key ways.

Firstly the FCC wants to make as much spectrum, both licensed and unlicensed, as possible available to CSPs, then to be flexible about what it can be used for. The 600 MHz auction of broadcast spectrum was cited as one example of this as well as the freeing up of 150 MHz in the 3.4 GHz band. Now the FCC is trying to make loads of higher frequency spectrum available for all manner of 5G goodness.

Secondly the FCC want to create a regulatory environment that incentivises companies to invest in infrastructure. Apparently there has been a fair bit of moaning in the US about burdensome bureaucracy (as ever) and the FCC is currently consulting on what can be done to lighten that load.

Lastly we were told that Pai’s top priority is to ‘close the digital divide’. Apparently there are still loads of rural places in the States that don’t have access to high-speed broadband and that makes Pai sad. To help with this the FCC is going to conduct a bunch of auctions where companies can bid for public funds to help build infrastructure where previously it was considered uneconomical to do so.

To anyone who regularly listens in on Pai’s public statements there was probably nothing new there. But we don’t get much opportunity to hear directly from the FCC Chairman here in Europe and it was disappointing that he had to cancel.

US senate orders another piece of Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been given the green light for a second five year term at the US regulator, as the Senators voted 52-41 in favour of the Republican.

It shouldn’t come as a massive surprise, but there still might have been a few tense days at the Pai household. In total, Pai received positive votes from 48 Republican Senators and four Democrats, while all the nay-sayers were in the Democrat corner.

“I am deeply grateful to the US Senate for confirming my nomination to serve a second term at the FCC and to President Trump for submitting that nomination to the Senate,” said Pai.

“Since January, the Commission has focused on bridging the digital divide, promoting innovation, protecting consumers and public safety, and making the FCC more open and transparent. With today’s vote, I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to advance these critical priorities in the time to come.”

Pai will continue to serve as Chairman until the end of the Trump Presidency, as this role is decided by the President alone. Unless Trump has a change of heart, which is not out of the question, critics will have to wait until the next Democratic President to regain control of the top chair at the FCC.

And the nay-sayers to the nominations certainly made their feelings known.

“While Ajit Pai has devoted many years to public service, I cannot support his nomination,” said Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey.Under. “Mr Pai’s short tenure, he has made the FCC stand for ‘forgetting consumers and competition’. If Ajit Pai gets his way, a handful of big broadband companies will serve as gatekeepers to the internet. Fewer voices, less choice, no competition, but more profits for the big broadband companies – that is Pai’s formula.”

“Mr Pai says that he is for real net neutrality, and we have tried to pin him down on a whole host of policies that really get him to commit to the essence of it, but he mostly says a version of what the big cable companies say,” said Ron Wyden, Senator for Oregon.

“Chairman Pai has been a vocal and excessively partisan and often hostile opponent of pro-consumer steps taken by his colleagues on the FCC,” said Florida Senator Bill Nelson. “The vast majority of the actions of Chairman Pai have served to eliminate competitive protections, to threaten dangerous industry consolidation, to make the internet less free and less open, and to weaken consumer protections for those most vulnerable.”

While it is hardly unusual for members of the opposition party to disagree with nominations or policies, the focus here is primarily on the pro-commerce stance which seems to be forming under the Pai leadership. Pai certainly has more of a light-touch regulation approach compared to his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, but it is still early days; we are yet to see the outcome of this philosophy.

Rules on net neutrality have been heading for the chopping block for some time, but this hands-off approach for regulation could see market consolidation. Rumours have been swirling around Sprint and T-Mobile for a couple of weeks now, and the recent Mobile Wireless Competition Report does seem to be paving the way towards the green light for the pair.

Under Wheeler, the FCC opposed any consolidation between the big four players in the US, though the most recent market report concluded a satisfactory level of competition in the market, and also noted the importance of the smaller, more regional players. Such a positive view on competition in the market does seem to be setting the scene for a pair-up.

Pai has only been in charge of the FCC for a matter of months, so it will be some time before we see the real world impact of his changes on a serious level, but this news at least guarantees another five years of pastry puns.

FCC’s Pai barks up the wrong tree with Apple FM attack

Ajit Pai, the Chairman of US telecoms regulator the FCC has criticized Apple for not activating FM functionality that the latest phones don’t even possess.

“In recent years, I have repeatedly called on the wireless industry to activate the FM chips that are already installed in almost all smartphones sold in the United States,” wrote Pai (pictured) in a public statement.

“When wireless networks go down during a natural disaster, smartphones with activated FM chips can allow Americans to get vital access to life-saving information. I applaud those companies that have done the right thing by activating the FM chips in their phones.

“Apple is the one major phone manufacturer that has resisted doing so. But I hope the company will reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. That’s why I am asking Apple to activate the FM chips that are in its iPhones. It is time for Apple to step up to the plate and put the safety of the American people first.”

Pai also referred to an emotive editorial published by the South Florida SunSentinel today entitled ‘Allow access to smartphones’ hidden radios’, which by total coincidence makes almost exactly the same point. South Florida, of course, was the part of mainland USA most affected by the recent hurricanes.

The only problem with all this public safety grandstanding, it seems, is that the functionality they insist is just a flick of the Apple switch away doesn’t actually exist. In an emailed response to MacRumours, Apple said the following. “iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products.”

Oh dear Ajit, that’s a bit awkward isn’t it? Maybe there’s some residual credibility to be had from older iPhones not covered in the Apple statement. In its analysis of that issue Daring Fireball notes that even if latent FM radio functionality is included on the phone’s SoC, you still need a special antenna to make it work, which no iPhones have.

The analysis concludes with the inference that Pai’s statement is probably a crude attempt to distract attention from the criticism the FCC has been receiving for its response to those very same natural disasters. Pai was appointed by Trump and seems to be learning quickly from the misdirection playbook.