Senator claps back after Ajit Pai calls California’s net neutrality bill ‘radical’ and ‘illegal’

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has provoked a senatorial response from California after calling the “nanny state’s” new net neutrality legislation “radical,” “anti-consumer,” “illegal,” and “burdensome.” Senator Scott Wiener (D-CA), in response, said Pai has “abdicated his responsibility to ensure an open internet” and that the FCC lacks the authority to intervene.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has provoked a biting senatorial response from California after calling the “nanny state’s” new net neutrality legislation “radical,” “anti-consumer,” “illegal,” and “burdensome.” Senator Scott Wiener (D-CA), in response, said Pai has “abdicated his responsibility to ensure an open internet” and that the FCC lacks the authority to intervene.

The political flamewar was kicked off this morning in Pai’s remarks at the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market think tank. You can read them in full here, but I’ve quoted the relevant part below:

Of course, those who demand greater government control of the Internet haven’t given up. Their latest tactic is pushing state governments to regulate the Internet. The most egregious example of this comes from California. Last month, the California state legislature passed a radical, anti-consumer Internet regulation bill that would impose restrictions even more burdensome than those adopted by the FCC in 2015.

If this law is signed by the Governor, what would it do? Among other things, it would prevent Californian consumers from buying many free-data plans. These plans allow consumers to stream video, music, and the like exempt from any data limits. They have proven enormously popular in the marketplace, especially among lower-income Americans. But nanny-state California legislators apparently want to ban their constituents from having this choice. They have met the enemy, and it is free data.

The broader problem is that California’s micromanagement poses a risk to the rest of the country. After all, broadband is an interstate service; Internet traffic doesn’t recognize state lines. It follows that only the federal government can set regulatory policy in this area. For if individual states like California regulate the Internet, this will directly impact citizens in other states.

Among other reasons, this is why efforts like California’s are illegal.

The bogeyman of banning zero rating plans has been raised again and again, but everyone should understand now that the whole thing is a sham — just another ploy by telecoms to parcel out data the way they choose.

The legal question is far from decided, but Pai has been crowing about a recent court ruling for a week or so now, despite the fact that it has very little to do with net neutrality. Ars Technica went into detail on this ruling; the takeaway is that while it is possible that the FCC could preempt state law on information services in some cases, it’s not clear at all that it has any authority whatsoever to do so with broadband services. Ironically, that’s because Pai’s FCC drastically reduced the FCC’s jurisdiction with its reclassification of broadband in Restoring Internet Freedom.

At any rate more consequential legal challenges and questions are still in the works, so Pai’s jubilation is somewhat premature.

“The Internet should be run by engineers, entrepreneurs, and technologists, not lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians,” he concluded. Odd then that those very engineers, entrepreneurs, and technologists almost unanimously oppose his policy, while he — literally seconds earlier — justified that policy via the world of lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians.

Senator Wiener was quick to issue a correction to the Chairman’s remarks. In an official statement, he explained that “Unlike Pai’s FCC, California isn’t run by the big telecom and cable companies.” The statement continued:

SB 822 is necessary and legal because Chairman Pai abdicated his responsibility to ensure an open internet. Since the FCC says it no longer has any authority to protect an open internet, it’s also the case that the FCC lacks the legal power to preempt states from protecting their residents and economy.

When Verizon was caught throttling the data connection of a wildfire fighting crew in California, Chairman Pai said nothing and did nothing. That silence says far more than his words today.

SB 822 is supported by a broad coalition of consumer groups, groups advocating for low income people, small and mid-size technology companies, labor unions, and President Obama’s FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler. I’ll take that support over Ajit Pai any day of the week.

The law in question has been approved by the state legislature, but is yet to be signed by Governor Jerry Brown, who has another two weeks to consider it.

Bay Area city blocks 5G deployments over cancer concerns

The Bay Area may be the center of the global technology industry, but that hasn’t stopped one wealthy enclave from protecting itself from the future. The city council of Mill Valley, a small town located just a few miles north of San Francisco, voted unanimously late last week to effectively block deployments of small-cell 5G […]

The Bay Area may be the center of the global technology industry, but that hasn’t stopped one wealthy enclave from protecting itself from the future.

The city council of Mill Valley, a small town located just a few miles north of San Francisco, voted unanimously late last week to effectively block deployments of small-cell 5G wireless towers in the city’s residential areas.

Through an urgency ordinance, which allows the city council to immediately enact regulations that affect the health and safety of the community, the restrictions and prohibitions will be put into force immediately for all future applications to site 5G telecommunications equipment in the city. Applications for commercial districts are permitted under the passed ordinance.

The ordinance was driven by community concerns over the health effects of 5G wireless antennas. According to the city, it received 145 pieces of correspondence from citizens voicing opposition to the technology, compared to just five letters in support of it — a ratio of 29 to 1. While that may not sound like much, the city’s population is roughly 14,000, indicating that about 1% of the population had voiced an opinion on the matter.

Blocks on 5G deployments are nothing new for Marin County, where other cities including San Anselmo and Ross have passed similar ordinances designed to thwart 5G expansion efforts over health concerns.

These restrictions on small cell site deployments could complicate 5G’s upcoming nationwide rollout. While 5G standards have yet to be standardized, one model that has broad traction in the telecommunications industry is to use so-called “small cell” antennas to increase bandwidth and connection quality while reducing infrastructure and power costs. Smaller antennas are easier to install and will be loss obtrusive, reducing the concerns of urban preservationists to unsightly tower masts that have long plagued the deployment of 4G antennas in communities across the United States.

Perhaps most importantly, these small cells emit less radiation, since they are not designed to provide as wide of coverage as traditional cell sites. The telecom industry has long vociferously denied a link between antennas and health outcomes, although California’s Department of Public Health has issued warnings about potential health effects of personal cell phone antennas. Reduced radiation emissions from 5G antennas compared to 4G antennas would presumably further reduce any health effects of this technology.

Restrictions like Mill Valley’s will make it nearly impossible to deploy 5G in a timely manner. As one industry representative told me in an interview a few months ago, “It takes 18 months to get the permit to deploy, and 2 hours to install.” Multiplied by the hundreds of sites required to cover a reasonably-sized urban neighborhood, and the 5G rollout goes beyond daunting to well-near impossible.

While health concerns have bubbled in various municipalities, those concerns are not shared globally. China, through companies like Huawei, is investing billions of dollars to design and build 5G infrastructure, in hopes of stealing the industry crown from the United States, which is the market leader in 4G technologies.

Those competitive concerns have increasingly been a priority at the FCC, where chairman Ajit Pai and his fellow Republican commissioners have pushed hard to overcome local concerns around health and historical preservation. The commission voted earlier this year on new siting rules that would accelerate 5G adoption.

Mill Valley’s ordinance is designed to frustrate those efforts, while remaining within the letter of federal law, which preempts local ordinances. Mill Valley’s mayor has said that the city will look to create a final ordinance over the next year.

Speedier broadband standards? Pai’s FCC says 25Mbps is fast enough

FCC kicks off annual analysis of nationwide broadband deployment.

Enlarge (credit: Jan Fabre)

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to maintain the US broadband standard at the current level of 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream.

That's the speed standard the FCC uses each year to determine whether advanced telecommunications capabilities are "being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion."

The FCC raised the standard from 4Mbps/1Mbps to 25Mbps/3Mbps in January 2015 under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler. Ajit Pai, who was then a commissioner in the FCC's Republican minority, voted against raising the speed standard.

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Ajit Pai admits FCC lied about “DDoS,” blames it on Obama administration

Former CIO “provided inaccurate information” about comment outage, Pai says.

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at Fox Studios on November 10, 2017 in New York City. (credit: Getty Images | John Lamparski )

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai yesterday acknowledged that the FCC lied about its public comment system being taken down by a DDoS attack during the net neutrality repeal proceeding.

Pai blamed the spreading of false information on employees hired by the Obama administration, and said that he isn't to blame because he "inherited... a culture" from "the prior Administration" that led to the spreading of false information. Pai wrote:

I am deeply disappointed that the FCC's former Chief Information Officer [David Bray], who was hired by the prior Administration and is no longer with the Commission, provided inaccurate information about this incident to me, my office, Congress, and the American people. This is completely unacceptable. I'm also disappointed that some working under the former CIO apparently either disagreed with the information that he was presenting or had questions about it, yet didn't feel comfortable communicating their concerns to me or my office."

Pai's admission came in a statement yesterday. "It has become clear that in addition to a flawed comment system, we inherited from the prior Administration a culture in which many members of the Commission's career IT staff were hesitant to express disagreement with the Commission's former CIO in front of FCC management," he also said.

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Ajit Pai gets message from his hometown ISP: Don’t hurt us small ISPs

Pai’s spectrum auction plan could make it hard for small ISPs to buy licenses.

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks about improving rural connectivity during an Agriculture Department forum on April 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Alex Wong )

A broadband provider from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's hometown says one of his latest plans could prevent it from purchasing spectrum needed to bolster its network.

Wave Wireless is a locally owned and operated home Internet provider in Parsons, Kansas, where Pai grew up. Last year, Pai met with Wave's owner and wrote in a tweet that Wave is "connecting Parsons (including my parents) & smaller towns nearby."

Pai heard from his hometown ISP again yesterday when Wave and 181 other fixed wireless broadband providers wrote a letter opposing an FCC plan that could limit the small ISPs' access to wireless spectrum.

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