Press Release

Public Knowledge Urges Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to Overturn FCC’s Move to Widen Digital Divide

August 26, 2019 , , , ,

Public Knowledge will present oral arguments requesting repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s November 2017 Order, “Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment,” before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday, August 27.

Public Knowledge, joined by three other public interest groups, filed a petition challenging the FCC’s rollback of consumer protections adopted by the Obama FCC in 2015. The agency passed these rules in response to numerous consumer complaints stemming from Hurricane Sandy and the general degeneration of traditional, copper-line legacy phone service in rural America. The 2015 Order required incumbent phone companies provide timely notice to anyone potentially impacted by a decision to retire existing copper lines in order to avoid confusion and interruption of vital services. The 2015 Order also required the incumbent provider offer a “functionally equivalent” service before shutting off legacy phone service. Finally, the 2015 Order created a new complaint process for situations where phone companies simply abandoned their legacy phone networks, cutting off rural Americans from even basic phone service. The 2017 Order eliminated all of these protections.

Public Knowledge argues that the FCC’s actions violate the plain language of the Communications Act. The FCC also violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by ignoring the extensive record gathered throughout these proceedings, and simply rejecting without explanation arguments and data it found inconvenient. The FCC compounded this by failing to give adequate notice of the scope of its intent in the 2017 proceeding.

Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld will deliver the arguments on behalf of Public Knowledge, Greenlining Institute, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA).

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

“Tens of millions of Americans, as well as millions of small businesses, still depend on legacy telephone systems. Many legacy life-saving devices such as pacemakers and alarm systems do not work on new digital technologies. The Obama-era FCC spent five years carefully crafting rules that would make our transition from digital an upgrade for everyone, not an upgrade for some and a downgrade for the rest. Chairman Pai, however, put the interests of phone companies ahead of the interests of vulnerable Americans, stripping the public of needed protections after less than a year in office. We fully expect the court to reverse this clear violation of the FCC’s statutory responsibility.”

You may view the petitioners’ brief for more information on the lawsuit as well as our recent blog post, “Making the Digital Transition an ‘Upgrade For All’ Again,” to learn more about why we’re going to court. You may also view the livestream at 9 a.m. PDT to observe oral arguments.