San Jose Mayor Leaves FCC Committee Over Industry Influence

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – Citing the overwhelming influence of industry players, the mayor of San Jose resigned from an advisory panel designed to provide feedback to the Trump administration on how to expand broadband access for Americans.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo submitted his resignation letter to the Federal Communications Commission Thursday, accusing the commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee of paying lip service to the concept of enhancing broadband access for the public while it is more interested in partnering with telecom industry representatives in a quest for larger profits.

“When I joined this committee, I hoped that I could contribute to developing balanced, common-sense recommendations that will advance our goal of expanding broadband access for all Americans, which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai identified as his ‘top priority’ at yesterday’s meeting,” wrote Liccardo. “It has become abundantly clear, however, that Chairman Pai and the FCC merely pay lip service to the goal of digital equity, and this body will simply serve to further the interests of the telecommunications industry over the public interest.”

Three-quarters of the committee members had either direct connections or close associations with the telecom industry, the letter claimed, even after Pai added two more public representatives due to complaints from Liccardo, other mayors and members of Congress.

Pai defended the work of the committee, saying it has “brought together 101 participants from a range of perspectives to recommend strategies to promote better, faster, and cheaper broadband.”

“Bridging the digital divide continues to be my top priority, and I look forward to continuing to work with the BDAC and many others to remove regulatory barriers to broadband deployment and to extend digital opportunity to all Americans,” Pai said.

Pai has long maintained excessive regulation hinders private investment into broadband infrastructure, but critics say this approach is fundamentally flawed.

According to them, the reason private telecom companies don’t invest in rural areas or low-income communities is because the return on that investment is insufficient.

Liccardo and others believe the public sector must step in and serve the public interest in areas where market forces alone do not suffice.

“We must keep fighting to ensure that the growing benefits brought by broadband access reach all of our communities,” Liccardo said.

While the squabble between Liccardo, a Democrat, and some of the more market-based representatives on the committee is philosophical, it also comes down to dollars and cents.

Cities and companies will fight over who must fund the infrastructure projects necessary not only to expand broadband access to more communities, but to upgrade the current systems as the telecom industry prepares to shift to the next generation of wireless services, or 5G.

Liccardo said in his letter the committee appears determined to put the cost of these fixes and upgrades on taxpayers, while telecom companies garner higher profits.

“The apparent goal is to create a set of rules that will provide industry with easy access to publicly-funded infrastructure at taxpayer-subsidized rates, without any obligation to provide broadband access to underserved residents,” the mayor wrote.

Criticism related to net neutrality has also centered on Pai, as he led the charge to repeal it late last year.

Opponents say the repeal is nothing but a boon to the telecom industry, while Pai maintains that net neutrality rules are cumbersome and thwart innovation and competition.

Liccardo’s resignation is the latest in a spate of departures from the many advisory boards and working groups that assist federal agencies in decision-making.

Last week, nine out of the 12 committee members serving on an advisory group for the National Park Service stepped down, saying it was unlikely that their counsel was being heard or considered.

Furthermore, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a recent study that said scientific participation on the advisory committees are at their lowest level since the government began keeping track of attendance 20 years ago.

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