Hurricane Michael Aftermath ‘Wake Up Call’ On Deregulating Telecommunications Services

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Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Public Knowledge worked closely with the Federal Communications Commission and in the states to put regulations in place to prevent recurrence of the large scale, long term communications blackouts that followed the storm. Over the last two years, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has repealed these rules. Public Knowledge has challenged this deregulation in court.

The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“In the last few days, both Florida Governor Rick Scott and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai have expressed alarm and concern with the slow pace of repairs for Florida’s communications services. Both Governor Scott and Chairman Pai have emphasized that restoring voice and internet service is vital to delivering relief services, providing impacted residents with access to information about aid and recovery assistance, and enabling people to resume work and contact family.

“What Governor Scott and Chairman Pai have not done is take responsibility for how their radical deregulation of telephone service has contributed to this unfortunate situation. In 2011, Governor Scott signed the “Regulatory Reform Act of 2011,” which eliminated virtually all oversight of Florida’s residential telephone service. This included repeal of Florida’s “Carrier of Last Resort” (COLR) requirements – rules that require carriers to provide service to everyone in the state – as well as repeal of Public Service Commission (PSC) regulations governing service blackouts, timeliness of repairs, or regulation of customer billing.

“In November 2017, Chairman Pai repealed many of the safeguards put in place by the Obama FCC following Superstorm Sandy, designed to prevent recurrence of the lengthy loss of service (and in some cases, discontinuance of service) suffered in many areas after Sandy. In June 2018, Chairman Pai further deregulated telephone providers to make it easier to discontinue service after a natural disaster.

“The situation in Florida shows what happens when regulators abandon their responsibilities to protect the public based on unenforceable promises from companies eager to cut costs for maintenance and emergency preparedness. This should be a wake up call for the 37 states that have eliminated traditional oversight of telecommunications services and those states considering similar deregulation: critical communications services cannot be left without some kind of public oversight.

“We once again call on the FCC to grant our Petition for Reconsideration and reverse its decision to eliminate the safeguards in place following Hurricane Sandy. No finger wagging, even by an FCC Chairman, can provide the same protection as enforceable consumer rights.”

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