President Donald Trump’s newly appointed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, Ajit Pai, has spent recent weeks dropping many of the agency’s previous efforts to make telecom services affordable and accessible to all.
The agency’s retreating efforts to keep these services affordable stand to result in higher prices on for America’s low-income and imprisoned population.
“In the months to come, we also need to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations,” Pai said in a speech to the Free State Foundation in December. “Under section 11, Congress specifically directed the FCC to repeal unnecessary regulations. We should follow that command.
“We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” Pai said.
Last week, FCC regulators reversed a decision that approved nine to participate in a federal program intended to help provide affordable internet access to low-income consumers weeks after they were approved.
The Lifeline program, established under the Reagan administration, provides discounted phone and internet service for people in low-income communities to connect with family and access resources for jobs and education.
Last year, under Pai’s Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler, the program was expanded to include broadband, and currently gives a $9.25 monthly credit to be used for internet access.
According to an American Community survey, 24.9 million out of 116.3 million households lack internet access.
Under Pai’s direction, the commission has also ended its efforts to lower the hefty cost of prison phone calls, which can cost $1 per minute before additional fees. The new FCC administration has inherited an ongoing court battle to protect its own rate capping on prison phone calls.
Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments for the case, and FCC lawyer David Gossett said the commission would no longer defend two important aspects for the rate cap that sought to limit rates on intrastate prison calls and oversee the methods for setting them.
“Today we took yet another step towards #PhoneJustice on behalf of the millions burdened by the egregious costs of communicating with a loved one who is currently incarcerated,” said Mignon Clyburn, the commission’s sole Democrat, in a statement following court proceedings. “I am grateful to the individuals who argued on behalf of justice for the inmates, their families and their legal representatives, and am confident that the court grasped the nuance of the legal arguments.
“Regardless of how the court rules, I will continue to press forward to ensure that inmates and their families receive just, reasonable and fair phone rates,” she said. “Justice demands it, and so do I.”