Pai brings ALEC to FCC despite AT&T and Verizon quitting the controversial group.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaking at a press conference on October 1, 2018, in Washington, DC.
A committee that advises the Federal Communications Commission on consumer-related matters now includes a representative of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which lobbies against municipal broadband, net neutrality, and other consumer protection measures.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his Consumer Advisory Committee’s new makeup on Wednesday. One new member is Jonathon Hauenschild, director of ALEC’s Task Force on Communications and Technology. He and other Consumer Advisory Committee will serve two-year terms. ALEC writes model state laws and urges state legislatures to adopt them, and it has helped convince about 20 states to pass laws that make it difficult or impossible for cities and towns to offer broadband service.
Hauenschild, who wrote on Twitter that he’s "looking forward to helping advise the FCC on consumer matters," has told the FCC in filings that it should stop regulating net neutrality and preempt state and local broadband laws. He’s argued that California’s net neutrality law is "disastrous." On the topic of municipal broadband, he argued that states should ensure that municipalities have "tried all other options before launching a municipal network including public-private partnerships."
ALEC has long received financial support from the telecom industry. But Verizon left ALEC in September 2018 after ALEC hosted a speech by right-wing activist David Horowitz, in which Horowitz argued against the legalization of abortion and gay marriage, compared the left wing’s support of "redistribution of income" to slavery, and said that "at the K-12 level, school curricula have been turned over to racist organizations like Black Lives Matter, and terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood."
Verizon explained to The Intercept that it "has no tolerance for racist, white supremacist, or sexist comment[s] or ideals." AT&T subsequently ended its membership in ALEC, also citing the Horowitz speech.
Sprint and T-Mobile had quit ALEC in 2012 and 2015, respectively, "leav[ing] Comcast, Charter Communications, CenturyLink, and Cox Communications as the last major telecom companies sticking with the corporate bill mill," PR Watch reported in November 2018.
ALEC itself admitted that it made a mistake by hosting Horowitz, removed video of the Horowitz speech from its site, and said that it "does not condone hate speech of any kind."
Civil rights advocacy group Color of Change‘s president, Rashad Robinson, blasted Pai for bringing ALEC onto the committee:
— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) April 12, 2019
The @FCC’s Ajit Pai has shown yet again that he has no interest in protecting consumers, only corporations. The appointment of Jonathon Hauenschild, a member of @ALEC_states leadership, and Katie McAuliffe, from @taxreformer, to the Consumer Advisory Council is a disgrace. pic.twitter.com/hTHs2rn4Hh
Consumer Advocates and Industry Lobbyists on Committee
The FCC’s 27-member Consumer Advisory Committee "provides advice and recommendations to the Commission on a wide array of consumer matters specified by the Commission," the FCC said. The committee held five meetings during its previous two-year term in 2017 and 2018, and the group issued several recommendations related to fighting robocalls.
The group’s membership for 2019 and 2020 does include some consumer advocates, such as representatives of
- National Consumers League
- Consumer Reports
- Consumer Federation of America
- National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA).
But the committee is also heavy on industry lobbyists, including the four most prominent lobby groups representing home and mobile broadband providers.
- AT&T is on the committee, representing itself
- NCTA and ACA—which both dropped the word "cable" from their names in order to improve their reputations — are representing the cable industry.
- USTelecom and CTIA are represent the Telecom and Wireless industry
The FCC said the committee "consists of a diverse mix of organizations representing consumers, the communications industry, government regulators, trade associations, academia, and other stakeholders including four individuals serving as Special Government Employees."
Member Claims Net Neutrality Bill Would Raise Taxes
One returning member is Katie McAuliffe, federal affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform. Last month, McAuliffe wrote an op-ed for The Daily Caller titled "Your Internet bill is going up 20 percent if Democrats get their way." McAuliffe’s argument was that the Democratic proposal to reinstate net neutrality rules will let state and local governments impose new fees and taxes on broadband.
McAuliffe failed to mention that the Democrats’ bill would reinstate the same regulatory regime used by the FCC between 2015 and 2018, and that the FCC’s regulatory oversight during that period didn’t lead to the outcome that she now describes as a certainty if the Democrats’ bill passes.
McAuliffe claimed the bill is an end-run around a 2016 law that permanently banned state and local taxation of Internet access. But the Democrats’ net neutrality bill does nothing to override that law.
McAuliffe’s claim of a 20 percent tax on broadband seems to refer to Universal Service fees, which are currently applied only to telephone service and help pay for broadband subsidies for poor people and for deployment of broadband networks in rural areas. Regulating broadband as a common-carrier service, like the FCC did between 2015 and 2018, could theoretically open the door to imposing such fees on broadband. But in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike have opposed the idea.
During debate on the House floor, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) said the Democrats’ bill "permanently prohibits the FCC from applying provisions on rate-setting, unbundling of ISP networks, or levying additional taxes or fees on broadband access."
Pai has faced criticism for the membership of a different group, the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC). San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo quit the group in January 2018 out of frustration that its recommendations favor the interests of private industry over municipalities.
In December 2018, the same FCC group proposed a new tax on Netflix, Google, Facebook, and many other businesses that require Internet access to operate. With committee member AT&T leading the way, the FCC advisory panel recommended giving this new tax money to ISPs.