Trump’s new FCC Chairman delivers huge setback to ‘Obama Phone’ program

Parody of the mess Ajit Pai has to clean up. (Twitter)

Parody of the mess Ajit Pai has to clean up. (Twitter)
Parody of the mess Ajit Pai has to clean up. (Twitter)

Ajit Pai has just recently been named by President Trump as the new Republican Chairman of the FCC. To say that Chairman Pai isn’t rocking the boat would be an understatement of Titanic proportions.

Initially set up many years ago to help the very poor increase their chances at securing gainful employment, the program’s costs mushroomed under Obama.

Possibly quite the shock to the nervous system of American taxpayers, Chairman Pai is conducting himself as someone who actually gives a damn regarding those same taxpayers.

As reported by TheHill.com;

Chairman Ajit Pai. (Twitter)
Chairman Ajit Pai. (Twitter)

The Federal Communications Commission dealt a blow to a program intended to provide subsidized internet to the poor, announcing that nine companies would no longer be able to participate in the plan.

Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the move on Friday afternoon to roll back the “midnight regulations” pushed through by his Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler.

The nine companies were approved for the program known as Lifeline, just weeks ago. Lifeline provides low-income households with a monthly credit of $9.25 to use to buy internet service.

“These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of Commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward.  Accordingly, they are being revoked,” Pai said in a statement of the flurry of actions he took to close out the week — his second as chairman.

The Backstory…

A mere two day before the Trump inauguration, then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat and an Obama appointee,  issued an Order authorizing nine internet companies to participate in the federally subsidized Lifeline program, specifically to widen the program to now include the American taxpayers paying for someone else’s broadband internet service.

Prior to Obama’s initial inauguration, Lifeline averaged the taxpayers roughly $825 million a year.  But that was in 2008. Things have changed considerably since then.

Obviously, Pai was having nothing to do with Wheeler’s last minute expansion of the program.

In his dissenting statement to then-Chairman Wheeler’s Order, then-Commissioner Pai unloaded on his boss in a manner that would make The Donald proud.

In the first section of his dissent, Pai plainly stated; (Emphasis mine)

        Lifeline continues to be a fiscal nightmare. Before the start of the Obama Administration, Lifeline spending had held steady in a range of $820–829 million over the course of four years. Then, in 2009, free services and free phone giveaways became the norm. Unscrupulous operators devised new ways to exploit loopholes to line their pockets. Sales agents schemed with consumers (who no longer had skin in the game) to enroll them in Lifeline multiple times—even if the consumer never qualified in the first place. Lifeline spending began to increase dramatically.

        When spending jumped to $1.4 billion in 2010, the state members of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service spotted the culprit. As the Chairman of the Oregon Public Utility Commission wrote, “several states have reported that a significant number (nearly half in some cases) of the Lifeline customers [subscribing to no-cost plans] are not eligible to receive support,” and “[l]eft unchecked, the fund will easily reach $2 billion within the next two years.”

        He was right. Lifeline spending hit $2.2 billion in 2012.

(FCC)
(FCC)

But towards the closing of his dissent, Pai came right out and identified the fetid fluid that comprises the infamous swamp that is Washington, DC; (Emphasis mine)

        One day before the vote, my office finalized a bipartisan compromise with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Commissioner Mike O’Rielly on a way to modernize the Lifeline program while staying faithful to our core principles. It was not an easy agreement to reach. Our three offices began working on a compromise on March 30. My staff worked with theirs through the night revising the Order in order to implement that bipartisan agreement. At 9:49 a.m. on March 31, the morning of the vote, all three offices formally agreed to a document on the official chain that memorialized the compromise.

        At 10:30 a.m., when the Commission’s meeting was scheduled to start, that agreement remained in place—but the Chairman delayed the meeting’s start until 12:00 p.m. At noon, when Commissioner O’Rielly and I came to the Commission meeting room and were ready to vote, that agreement remained in place—and the Chairman again delayed the meeting. By the time the meeting finally began at 2:00 p.m., Commissioner Clyburn had backed out of the agreement.

        Why?

        It turns out that since early that morning, perhaps even late the night before, Chairman Wheeler and his staff were actively working to unwind that bipartisan compromise. Those efforts started with leaking nonpublic information to the press. The Chairman’s Office then encouraged lawmakers and stakeholders, from the usual gaggle of left-wing, Washington special interests to former FCC Commissioners, to blast the deal before the votes could be cast—indeed, before they even knew what the deal was.

        It is one thing to refuse to work toward bipartisan compromise—a trait that, for some reason, the Chairman wears with a badge of honor that distinguishes him from everyone else, Republican and Democrat alike, who has ever held that seat. It is quite another thing to launch a political campaign to force a Democratic FCC Commissioner to renege on a bipartisan compromise on her signature issue.

        I have spent the vast majority of my career in public service. I have worked as a staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee on controversial issues like immigration with Democrats like Barack Obama. I have worked as a staffer at the Justice Department on controversial issues like reauthorization of the Patriot Act with Democrats like Dianne Feinstein. I have worked as a staffer and now as a Commissioner at the FCC with Democrats on many more controversial issues. The common thread of my work for many years has been to find common ground—because I believe common ground exists and it just takes work to find it.

        And so it gives me no pleasure to state the obvious: This agency in this proceeding represented the worst of government. A bipartisan agreement that would have delivered digital opportunity to millions of Americans was thrown away and even a Democratic commissioner was bulldozed simply because the Chairman could get away with it. The Commission’s failure to clean up the waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program puts the entire enterprise in jeopardy. It will take a future agency, one whose members work in good faith and believe in good policy, to decide what comes next.

      I dissent.

Chairman Pai definitely has his hands full. While his predecessor attempted expand Lifeline to new sky high costs, the $2.2 billion budget from 2012 has grown to the 2017 approved budget of $2.25 billion.

 

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