Biden praises ISPs for price cuts even as they ‘sabotage’ his FCC nominee

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Enlarge / US President Joe Biden at an event on broadband discounts for low-income Americans, in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 9, 2022.

Getty Images | Drew Angerer

Consumer advocates are unimpressed with President Biden’s announcement that internet service providers have agreed to provide cheap broadband to low-income Americans.

Biden’s announcement on Monday touted voluntary commitments by Comcast, Charter Spectrum, AT&T, Verizon and 16 other ISPs to offer broadband for $30 a month to households eligible for rebates under the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP ). Each of the 20 companies “committed to offering all ACP-eligible families at least one broadband package [with download speeds of at least 100Mbps] for $30/month or less, with no additional charges and no data caps,” the White House said. This effectively makes broadband plans free for many people, as the CPA offers eligible households discounts of $30 per month.

At a press conference attended by ISP representatives, Biden called Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Frontier and Verizon. “You really change people’s lives. You really are,” the president told major broadband providers. Biden also praised “small providers serving rural areas, like Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee and Ideatek in Kansas.”

But that’s only a short-term improvement as Biden’s broadband agenda is stymied by the failure to give the Federal Communications Commission a Democratic majority, advocacy groups have said. Some of the same ISPs hired by Biden lobbied behind the scenes against Biden’s nominee Gigi Sohn, who is still awaiting a Senate confirmation vote, the groups said. Comcast recently hired a lobbyist to work on “FCC nominations,” as reported in January.

“Some of the internet service providers appearing at this White House event are sabotaging President Biden’s FCC even as they pose for today’s photo op,” Matt Wood, vice president of policy, said yesterday. and general counsel of the Free Press. Free Press also said:

This announcement marks welcome efforts to reduce the cost of this essential service. But it comes at a time when the FCC, the agency that oversees the nation’s communications industry, remains at a standstill thanks to the stalling tactics of those same internet service providers. Although Biden nominated Gigi Sohn to the FCC more than six months ago, Democratic leaders have so far failed to call a vote to confirm her, leaving the agency without a 3-2 Democratic majority. it needs to decide on a number of critical issues, including monitoring of the ACP programme. An industry-funded smear campaign aimed at obstructing the FCC stalled progress on Sohn’s nomination.

“Strange Juxtaposition”

A similar response came from Public Knowledge, the consumer advocacy group Sohn co-founded in 2001. After leading Public Knowledge as CEO for more than a decade, Sohn served as an adviser to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. , from 2013 to 2016.

“These voluntary pledges form an odd juxtaposition to the aggressive delay efforts orchestrated by the same broadband providers, cellphone carriers and broadcasters the FCC regulates to block the confirmation of Gigi Sohn, a top consumer champion, to the agency. “said Public Knowledge. . “These delaying tactics hinder the agency’s work to provide enforceable oversight and consumer protection for affordable broadband for all Americans.”

Public Knowledge CEO Chris Lewis added that “this is a short-term victory as Americans need bolder action from their policymakers to secure affordable broadband at the future. Nearly a year and a half into this administration, we continue to have no control over competition and pricing in the broadband market by Congress or the expert communications networking agency, the FCC. .”

Biden nominated Sohn on October 26, 2021, after a surprisingly long delay. The Senate Commerce Committee sent the nomination to the full Senate on March 3, but there was no final vote. Republican senators have portrayed Sohn as an enemy of free speech, and lobbying campaigns against her nomination include one that implausibly claims she does not support rural broadband expansion.

Same ISPs ‘undermine’ Biden’s agenda

Biden is celebrating the same telecommunications companies that are “undermining his administration’s broadband agenda,” said the Broadband Community Networks Program of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a municipal internet services advocacy group.

“The Biden administration took a long time to nominate the most obvious candidate for the job – Gigi Sohn – and did little to have her confirmed in a timely manner. Although it is easy to blame Republican opposition, the truth is that it just doesn’t seem to be a priority for the administration,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Broadband Community Networks program.

Meanwhile, ISPs have welcomed their voluntary commitments. “We have never been more committed to bridging the digital divide and helping people connect to the Internet,” Comcast said yesterday. Cable industry lobby group NCTA said the cheap plans “reflect a significant step forward in the long-standing efforts of cable operators and many others to help vulnerable households overcome barriers that have deterred some to subscribe to broadband at home”.

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