Indian-American Congressman Rohit “Ro” Khanna has accused Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai of putting corporate interests ahead of that of the public when it comes to internet access. In a speech on the House floor, the Congressman from Silicon Valley on Tuesday criticised Indian-American Pai for his recent decision to revoke Lifeline Broadband Provider status to nine companies that provide broadband access to low-income households.
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Khanna, 40, who entered the House of Representatives for the first time, said it should be easier for low-income families to get affordable broadband access, not more difficult. Pai’s actions are just another example of the Trump administration putting corporate interests ahead of that of the public, he alleged. “This decision undercuts the companies’ ability to provide low-cost Internet access to low-income Americans and is just the most recent example of the Trump administration taking action that impacts our nation’s most vulnerable,” Khanna said. “He is writing the rules of modern day capitalism in a way that privileges these elite telecom companies, with concentrated economic power, at the expense of low income Americans,” he said.
“This Congress must stand united to make sure an unelected bureaucrat doesn’t get to write the rules of our economy in favour of wealthy interests at the expense of ordinary Americans,” said Khanna, who is asking other members of Congress to join him on this issue. He has also circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter to House offices.
In a blog post, Pai, however said his decision is being negatively portrayed in the media. “Our action only impacted nine of the over 900 providers participating in the Lifeline programme. In other words, 99 per cent of the companies participating in the programme are not affected at all,” he said. Further the applications of these nine providers to participate in the programme have not been rejected. They simply remain pending at the Commission, Pai noted, adding that all but one of the newly-designated providers covered by the order do not have any customers yet.
Pai, 44, said the prior FCC disregarded the well-established process for approving applications like these. As the National Tribal Telecommunications Association pointed out, several of the providers had never coordinated their applications with Tribes, despite an FCC rule clearly requires them to do so. These Tribal representatives thus requested that the designations be reversed. Moreover, two of the designated providers were approved in the middle of the 30-day period for public comment, that is, before the public even had a chance to weigh in on the designation. Whatever one thinks of the merits of these applications, that was plainly improper, Pai said.
Pai said many of these designations were approved in the last days of the last Administration (two days before Inauguration Day, over the objections of two of the four commissioners, despite the fact that the FCC’s congressional oversight committees had requested that the commission should not take controversial actions during the transition between Administrations (consistent with the request from those same committees during the Republican-to Democrat transition in 2008–09). Thus, a majority of commissioners never supported approval of these designations, he said.