Under fire for its shoddy response, FCC finally wakes up to Puerto Rico
But recovery on the island still sluggish
Show me the money
That criticism took on a nasty edge when President Trump started publicly attacking the mayor of Puerto Rico's capital of San Juan. Many suspected racism on Donald's part: although a US territory, Puerto Rico is predominantly Spanish speaking, with fewer than 20 per cent of residents speaking English.
Then, attention was drawn to a $300m deal awarded to a tiny Montana firm, Whitefish Energy Holdings, to help restore power. The company only had two employees and its previous largest contract had been for just $1.3m.
Digging into the unusual contract, reporters and federal committees soon discovered that Whitefish's CEO Andy Techmanski was close friends with Trump's interior secretary Ryan Zinke and that Zinke's son had worked a summer job for Whitefish. Zinke denied any wrongdoing and blamed the "dishonest media" for suggesting otherwise, but it created a political storm that the White House was pulled into.
That situation grew worse when President Trump was criticized for not visiting Puerto Rico and then, when he did visit, made numerous insensitive comments including about how only 17 people were killed by the storm. Subsequent analysis has shown that more than 1,000 Puerto Ricans died as a result of Maria.
During his visit, Trump fed the flames when he blamed the island for costing too much money, repeated a false conspiracy theory about deliveries not arriving because truck drivers were on strike, and then tossed paper towels to people in a recovery center in what many viewed as a bizarre reality-TV-style effort to help.
In short, the issue of Puerto Rico and its recovery has become a political hot potato. Normally that would be of little concern to the FCC as a federal regulator but under Pai, the FCC has become another branch of the endless partisan political battling within Washington DC.
Pai has strongly aligned himself with hyper-partisan groups, and copied their language and approach, even going so far as to publicly mock and disparage groups with a perceived left-wing bias, as well as use misleading discredited examples of political bias to further his policy agenda.
In short, the FCC boss has, for reasons unknown, decided that his best interests lie in making himself into the telco policy version of Donald Trump, reflecting the president's mercurial behavior.
Unfortunately, people living in Puerto Rico without electricity, internet access or basic telecommunications are collateral damage. A hearing into Puerto Rico and the federal government's failure to do more is likely to lead to political retribution and finger pointing. And so, rather than do the right thing, the FCC is putting partisan politics ahead of US citizens. ®