Press Release Tech Transitions

Public Interest Groups Urge Congress to Hold the FCC Accountable for America’s Degrading Telephone Network

December 5, 2019 , , ,
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Yesterday, Public Knowledge joined 23 other public interest, civil rights, tribal, and rural advocacy groups in a letter urging the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology to require Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai to address public safety concerns about America’s increasingly fragile and unreliable communications network. 

As the blackouts caused by wildfires in California starkly demonstrated, even some of the wealthiest and well-connected places in the United States, such as Marin County, can lose access to voice and data services when we need them most. For millions of Americans still dependent on traditional copper-line service, years of lax oversight and deregulation have made even traditional voice service unreliable on a daily basis. This degradation of our telephone network disproportionately impacts rural communities, communities of color, the elderly, the poor, and Tribal lands, all of whom remain heavily reliant on traditional copper lines. But even in areas with more modern networks, the lack of any regulatory oversight and accountability has made our communications networks unreliable, such as the multi-state outage in December 2018 on CenturyLink that knocked out broadband and voice service for over 24 hours. 

Public Knowledge contends that since the Trump FCC has repeatedly repealed pre-existing safeguards and preempted states from exercising their own oversight, Congress must require Chairman Pai to address these concerns.

The following is an excerpt from the letter:

“While Washington remains focused on ‘winning the race to 5G,’ increasing numbers of Americans lack basic, reliable voice telephone service as providers allow their legacy networks to rust and degrade. Lack of maintenance and lack of emergency preparedness have contributed to lengthy outages in periods of natural disaster, where the ability to communicate with emergency services and family is most critical. Once the envy of the world, our national communications network increasingly fails us when we need it most.

“The current FCC has aggravated this situation. As one of his first items of business, Chairman Ajit Pai repealed critical safeguards put in place after Superstorm Sandy. Chairman Pai has ignored the recommendations of the FCC’s own staff reports after the botched responses by industry to natural disasters such as Hurricanes Michael, Irma and Maria. Nor has Chairman Pai responded to the repeated requests from Democratic Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks to address network reliability concerns, most recently highlighted by the California wildfires. The current FCC has further aggravated this situation by misclassifying as an ‘information service’ every modern method of telecommunication — broadband, SMS Texting, facilities based voice over IP (VOIP) — in a deliberate effort to render these services immune to FCC or state jurisdiction.

“[The] the failure of the FCC to engage in any comprehensive investigation into national network reliability, or to engage in any follow up on the impact of repeal of the post-Superstorm Sandy ‘Technology Transition’ safeguards, makes it impossible to assess the full scope of the problem. What is clear is that we are experiencing broad, systemic failure of critical communications infrastructure, while the agency that Congress created to protect the American people stands idly by.

“We cannot ‘win the race to 5G’ or ‘compete globally in the broadband world’ with a crumbling foundation of neglected infrastructure. Everyone in the United States should expect their communications system to work regularly and reliably — especially in times of crisis and natural disaster. Congress created the FCC for this very purpose. But the FCC has increasingly neglected this critical responsibility.”

You may view the full letter here.