Trump's new telecoms chief bins broadband subsidies for the poor

Net neutrality's taken a hit, too

Gunslinger, image via Shutterstock

The Trump administration's propensity for bold and sudden action reached the United States Federal Communications Commission on Friday, as commissioner Mignon Clyburn and the Commission's chair Ajit Pai clashed over an end-of-week “news dump” that has profound policy implications.

The FCC dropped a dozen announcements on Friday, and Clyburn complained in a statement that doing so late in the week meant it was taking out the trash in the hope decision would escape scrutiny.

And scrutiny seems justified, as the announcements saw net neutrality took a hit, with commissioner Michael O'Reilly pulling the plug on the FCC's “zero rating” inquiry. That means wireless carriers won't have to worry about excluding over-the-top services like Spotify or Apple Music from their data caps.

Much more controversially, Trump-appointed FCC chair Pai reversed a decision made late in the Obama administration to let consumers apply their telecommunications subsidies to broadband services.

The "Lifeline" program provides low-income Americans a US$9.25 credit. Until January, that credit could only be applied to landline or mobile voice services, but former FCC chair Tom Wheeler's decision allowed it to be used to buy Internet access.

In opening Lifeline for Internet services, Wheeler was putting into force a decision voted on in March 2016. The two commissioners that voted against Lifeline then were Pai and O'Reilly.

Pai's Friday announcement called the Obama-era policy switch “midnight regulation” and reversed Wheeler's decision> Pai has since said all of Wheeler's last-minute orders will be reversed.

Clayburn was critical of this decision as well, saying “By eliminating the designations of nine entities to provide Lifeline broadband service, the Bureau has substantially undermined businesses who had begun relying on those designations. These providers include a minority-owned business, a provider enabling students to complete their homework online, and others serving Tribal lands.” ®

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