When Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai launched an advisory board on high-speed internet access, he billed it as a way to bring broadband to more people. But San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo—for a time, the group’s only city representative—quit the committee in protest, saying the initiative has been hijacked by the telecom industry.
“When I joined this committee, I hoped that I could contribute to developing balanced, common-sense recommendations that will advance our goal of expanding broadband access for all Americans, which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai identified as his ‘top priority’ at yesterday’s meeting,” Liccardo explained in his resignation letter. “It has become abundantly clear, however, that Chairman Pai and the FCC merely pay lip service to the goal of digital equity, and this body will simply serve to further the interests of the telecommunications industry over the public interest. As a result, I have submitted my resignation to the FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Board effective immediately.”
Though ostensibly formed as a partnership among community stakeholders, the board quickly came under fire for its clear bias toward telecommunication companies. In August, the Center for Public Integrity described how local governments felt hoodwinked when the FCC stacked the panel with industry-friendly appointees.
When I joined the @FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, I hoped to help develop balanced recs to expand broadband access for all Americans. It has become abundantly clear that this body will simply serve to further telecom industry interests. https://t.co/O3ltGWOAym
— Sam Liccardo (@sliccardo) January 25, 2018
In his parting missive, Liccardo said he initially hoped the committee would come up with balanced recommendations, but ultimately realized that wasn’t going to happen.
“The chairs of the working groups on which I participated have been very cordial, and collaborative in tone, and I am grateful for that,” he wrote. “However, after nine months of deliberation, negotiation, and discussion, we’ve made no progress toward a single proposal that will actually further the goal of equitable broadband deployment. Although we’ve adopted principles that pay lip service to that objective, not a single one of the draft recommendations attempts to meaningfully identify any new or significant resources to promote digital inclusion. My team’s vocal attempts—and those of other stakeholders—to note that glaring omission have not resulted in any meaningful changes.”
The problem became clear, he said, at the latest meeting in Washington D.C., where one working group with not a single municipal rep among 30-plus participants created a draft state code that eliminated local control. Another subcommittee had an industry apparatchik dramatically re-write its municipal code at the last minute, shrugging off months of deliberations.
“The result, in each case, were provisions that plainly prioritized industry interests,” Liccardo wrote.
Industry reps claimed that slashing lease rates on public infrastructure would help serve the 34 million Americans without broadband access, but Liccardo noted that the dearth of investment in low-income neighborhoods seems to indicate otherwise.
Telecom companies are trying to create rules that will give them easy access to public infrastructure at subsidized rates without any obligation to expand broadband access to underserved residents, the mayor said. Sub-market rates and by-right access to taxpayer-funded infrastructure strips cities of the ability to hold companies accountable for building equitable networks that reach low-income communities, he added.
“We should all embrace the opportunity of greater broadband deployment, at better speeds, with the latest technology,” Liccardo concluded. “Yet, we have to do it in a way that puts the public’s interest first.”