Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Groups tell FCC chair his broadband proposal, up for a vote Thursday, would hurt rural areas

Consumer watchdog groups have banded together to tell the Federal Communications Commission that its broadband plan could leave millions of rural Americans stuck with poor or no high-speed internet connectivity.

The FCC's proposal seeks to spur industry investment in rural areas by letting broadband carriers cut costs when updating old copper-wire networks. "The groups report there are roughly 48 million U.S. residents who depend on legacy copper networks and many of these are located in rural communities with no affordable alternatives," Jason Shueh reports for State Scoop. "Within the current FCC guidelines, carriers are prohibited from discontinuing or impairing services unless there is a comparable replacement. The new rules would give AT&T, Verizon and others the right to leave residents with broadband that — in addition to slow or spotty connectivity — might be incapable of servicing devices that require reliable and persistent connections, like health monitors, alarm systems, credit-card machines, hearing-aid devices and even 911 calls, the letter states."

A group of 22 organizations, including the National Consumer Law CenterCommon Cause, the Communications Workers of America, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Center for Rural Strategies and the California Center for Rural Policy, wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai saying the plan would  "particularly hurt rural and low-income communities where [broadband] is historically more expensive to deploy."

The groups point to Verizon's failure to replace its copper network with a wireless service in New York City's Fire Island after Hurricane Sandy in 2013. "Verizon replaced its damaged copper network on Fire Island with a fixed wireless service that did not work with a range of third-party services and couldn’t even complete 911 calls, sparking massive consumer, business, and first responder outrage," the letter says. Pai was formerly an attorney for Verizon.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Nov. 16.

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