February 10, 2017 11:40 AMHouse and Senate post-election requests for the agency to focus "only on matters that require attention under the law." In ignoring that Congressional request, on December 1, 2016, Wheeler ordered the Wireline Competition Bureau to designate 4 carriers as "eligible telecommunications carriers" ("ETC's") for purposes of participating, as broadband providers, in the Commission's "Lifeline" program, which offers a $9.25/month subsidy to carriers serving low-income customers. Then only two days before Chairman Wheeler left the Commission, the Wireline Competition Bureau, without Commissioner input, went ahead and designated 5 additional carriers as broadband ETCs.
To put the Bureau's actions into context, consider that since the FCC first initiated reform of its Lifeline Rules back in March, 2011--it has designated exactly 0 carriers as wireless, or broadband, ETCs. Thus, in more than 6 years the FCC made no ETC designations, despite having applications that have been pending for longer, and from equally--or better--qualified applicants. Oddly, the recent ETC Designation Orders offer no explanation for why these carriers, out of all the pending applications, were chosen for approval.
So, it's against this backdrop, that Chairman Pai took the incredibly wise and unremarkable step to request a pause and take a second look at the two orders, which represented the first agency action on ETC designation in at least 6 years. Nevertheless, that did not hold the Washington Post back from breathlessly issuing a sensational, and misleading headline that the "FCC is stopping 9 companies from providing subsidized broadband to the poor."
By Monday, the story grew only more misleading as activists on the Left amplified it on social media. Against this backdrop (keeping in mind that Chairman Pai's very first policy pronouncement to the FCC's staff prioritized the importance of improving the quality/speed of broadband service available to rural and low income Americans), the Chairman, on Tuesday, personally penned an article on Medium, explaining in detail the Commission's recent decision.
Perhaps concerned that a good fake-news-cum-Twitter-outrage-campaign story was going to die from exposure to the cold hard facts, Gigi Sohn, a former senior advisor to previous FCC Chairman Wheeler, penned her own blog post yesterday--to address a "controversy" resulting from a misleading article (that she probably sourced in the first place). In her post, she argues that Chairman Pai's Medium article "doth protest too much" and that his "arguments fail to mask two clear truths."
While the normal use of the Hamlet line "doth protest too much" means the person protesting actually supports the conclusion they argue against, it's obvious that Sohn does not think that Pai secretly supports the previous FCC's post-election change of policy. Moreover, even though the "clear truths," to which she refers, are both actually "arguments;" let's look at these.
The first "clear truth" she argues is that Pai's "actions will make the market for Lifeline broadband services less competitive, limiting choice and keeping prices high." But if you read the two ETC Designation Orders, you will see that the only firms that are already selling their "broadband" services are wireless resellers offering 3G and 4G data as part of overall wireless plans. This is not to impugn these firms' offerings, but to clarify that the same offers were already available to Lifeline consumers from other carriers, e.g., here,--and will remain so, despite Pai's decision to rescind these designations.
Yet, if Sohn felt this strongly about the merits of Lifeline "competition," why didn't she and Chairman Wheeler approve more qualified providers as ETCs, starting at the beginning of his term as Chairman? I, personally, have a client that--during the terms of the last 3 Democratic FCC Chairs--has consistently been rated as the "best," or among the very best, wireless service providers in the country, and which has been waiting over 7 years for ETC Designation.
The second "clear truth," which Ms. Sohn believes Chairman Pai's Medium article exposes, is that "[Pai] and fellow FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, fundamentally disagree with the structure and goals of the Lifeline program and will seek to undermine it in word and deed." This statement is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of ad hominem, in which an argument is rebutted "by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself." Here, Ms. Sohn fails to refute any reason proffered by Chairman Pai for taking a second look at the ETC Designation orders, and simply accuses Pai, and the other Republican FCC Commissioner, for having some broader "evil" motive ["disagree[ing] with the 'structure and goals of the Lifeline program'"] unrelated to this specific dispute.
If there is one thing that Ms. Sohn's blog post does successfully convey, it is to give us a better idea of where the first misleading headline came from, at least in terms of motive. Perhaps if Sohn took less "surprise and delight" in someone else having to defend themselves against misinformation, then she could have advised Chairman Wheeler to take an interest in Lifeline competition before being asked by Congress to focus only on matters "that require attention under the law" prior to the change in presidential administrations.