FCC Chairman Pai Downgrades Rural America, Widens Digital Divide in Baffling Broadband Vote

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Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Report and Order, Declaratory Ruling, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order to roll back consumer protections established in the agency’s 2015 Technology Transitions Order.

The 2015 Order enacted rules that required incumbent phone providers to notify consumers and retailers before abandoning their copper networks. The rules also forced phone providers to obtain FCC permission before ripping out a community’s copper lines, and required phone providers to carefully consider how this service change would impact a community’s network, including 911 and home alarm systems. Public Knowledge considers this vote a downgrade for rural America that will only serve to widen the digital divide.

The following can be attributed to Yosef Getachew, Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge:

“We’re shocked by the audacity of this Commission, whose job it is to protect consumers and promote the public interest in telecommunications service. This agency has a responsibility to all Americans, and particularly those rural Americans struggling to connect. Millions of Americans, especially in rural communities, continue to rely on the copper network for voice and broadband services. The copper network is the connective tissue for many third-party services these consumers use every day, including medical alert devices, fire alarms, and credit card machines.

“By eliminating the advance notice requirements, consumers and small businesses will be left confused and unprepared once their carrier begins to retire their copper network. Customers have already expressed concern over whether they would continue to receive the same service, if they would be affected by power outages, and if their equipment would still function. Consumers need time to understand what changes will result from new networks and time to adapt to those changes -- and Chairman Pai’s FCC has robbed them of this time.

“Furthermore, replacing the ‘Functional Test’ with the ‘Tariff Test’ will result in a downgrade in service for millions of rural Americans. We’ve already seen the dangers that can happen when carriers don’t consider how change in service will impact a community. Following Superstorm Sandy, Verizon replaced its damaged copper network on Fire Island, NY with wireless services that didn’t work with a range of third-party services and couldn’t guarantee connection to 911.

“Next-generation networks should be upgraded to benefit all of us. Unfortunately, we find this Order a downgrade for rural America and our nation’s most vulnerable communities -- and that’s simply unacceptable from the FCC.”

View our latest blog post, “Pai’s Plan to Downgrade Rural America,” for more information.

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