Don't subsidise fiber, just give the money to AT&T says FCC commissioner

2 February 2017 by Steve Blum
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The new FCC stands up for broadband.

Broadband has no place any big, federal infrastructure spending bill, according to a key member of the Federal Communications Commission. Michael O’Rielly is the other republican on the commission, in addition to new chairman Ajit Pai, and the more dogmatic of the two.

In a blog post published yesterday, he excoriated previous broadband grant programs, urged colleagues to “salute the work already done by private broadband companies” and endorsed the FCC’s incumbent-centric rural subsidy program, which is designed to accomodate AT&T’s 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up wireless service. He denigrated the FCC’s current 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps standard and said that 90% of the U.S. population has access to that level of service. O’Rielly advised the remaining 10% – mostly in rural areas, but it also includes inner cities – that “it simply isn’t true that every user within a city, town, village, or hamlet must have or demands broadband at a certain speed, such as downloads of 25/50/100 Mbps”.

He took a swipe at broadband subsidies offered by other federal agencies and, it seems, states like California, where he believes “unfortunately, many broadband programs are designed to be fiber first or fiber only”. O’Rielly made a straw man argument about “dragging fiber to the top of every mountain” and concluded that “alternatively, fixed wireless broadband or satellite may be the most appropriate solution”.

There’s fair criticism in his post of the way some programs have been run. Lack of coordination and overly bureaucratic management are endemic in public broadband subsidy programs – including the FCC’s Connect America Fund. But O’Rielly jumped into Wonderland when he wrote “at a time when so much focus is on reducing undue or improper involvement by D.C. lobbyists and politicians, shouldn’t there be equal concern that any new broadband programs aren’t monopolized by the well-connected?”

Hey, Mike. AT&T stuffs more money into political pockets and gets more money from your beloved CAF program than anyone else. Do the math.

From a big picture perspective, O’Rielly’s post is a manifesto for the coming years. In this and other opinions he’s published, O’Rielly is directly aligned with Trump’s handpicked transition team and mainstream republican dogma. He hasn’t gone rogue. Quite the contrary. He’s made a crystal clear declaration of the new administration’s telecoms infrastructure policy.