back to article Is the FCC purposefully screwing up US school broadband projects?

Schools across the United States are sounding the alarm on what looks suspiciously like an effort by the federal telecoms regulator to undermine efforts to build new broadband networks. Under the e-rate program run by the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, schools that do not have access to a fiber network supplied by …

  1. Blotto Bronze badge

    What a tool

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Timeline? What timeline...?

      Don't be made a fool. Look at the article again:

      "In 2016, for example, of 426 applications for special construction, 52 per cent of them were denied..."

      Notice the date? That's during the Obama admin. Yet we then read:

      "What seasoned FCC observers suspect however is that the schools' effort to get fast and stable internet access has hits the rocks of Pai's extraordinary subservience to large cable companies."

      Why suspect that? This stuff was happening BEFORE Trump was elected and before Pai was installed, yet HE'S the primary culprit? I think not. And were there any more recent dates than 2016, I'm positive those would have been included in this particular article.

      This is one in a long string of articles by one author that's been pounding on Pai relentlessly, and as soon as I saw the byline I knew it would be made all Pai's fault, despite the lack of culpability.

      Oh sure, Pai ought not be continuing the bad behavior of the previous admin, but that's quite different from alluding that he is somehow the origin of the policy. The author could have admitted this up front and then legitimately castigate Pai for being too much like Obama's people, but I guess that just didn't sit well somehow.

      1. kierenmccarthy

        Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

        I appreciate your determination to find holes in every article I write, but have you considered the fact that those rejections happened in 2017? You know, when the new administration was in power.

        1. Barry Rueger Silver badge

          Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

          As much as I hate agreeing with Big Bad John, I read,

          "In 2016, for example, of 426 applications for special construction, 52 per cent of them were denied..."

          the same way. My editor hat suggests:

          "For example, of 426 applications made in 2016 for special construction, 52 per cent of them were denied in 2017"

        2. Donn Bly

          Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

          Why would we consider that the rejections happened in 2017, when your article explicitly states that they occurred in 2016?

          According to the numbers in your article, in 2016 52% of the applications were rejected, but in 2017 only 1% of the applications have been rejected. If those numbers and timeframes are not accurate, perhaps amending the article to correct the incorrect statements would be appropriate?

          As for the rejections, in a government grant you don't gets to bend the rules, fudge the definitions, or ignore the timelines. By your numbers, 5.5% of the applications didn't meet timeline rules - yet you also state that the normal rate of ALL rejections is 4%. Where did the 4% number come from, and what is the basis for it? What was the number of applications and rejection rates for 2014 and 2015, so that we could at least see a historical perspective to the numbers. What basis do you have for saying that the schools wouldn't have knowledge of the deadline? Is the deadline new this cycle? Did the rules change after the grant requirements were published? Was the deadline not IN the grant requirements?

          You state that schools hired outside firms because so many past applications were rejected -- but assuming these applications are done annually that means that their past rejections were from the previous grant cycle -- which puts THAT cycle outside the tenure of the current administration.

          I am not saying that your conclusions are wrong -- I have no reason to believe or disbelieve that the FCC's hands are entirely clean in this matter -- but your numbers do not support your claims. In fact, they undermine and contradict them.

          Facts matter. Without them your article is an editorial, not objective journalism.

        3. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

          If the rejections occurred in 2017, the article should say so, and be corrected with an explanation. Asserting in a comment that the article says what it does not certainly does not warrant the 16 upvotes it had received as of 1700 UTC on October 28.

        4. bombastic bob Silver badge

          Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

          I figured it was just "governmentium" and the usual bureaucratic nightmare. I doubt Pai is doing it on purpose, other than enforcing the rules that were put into place before he took charge [that would be like him, to do that]. If the skids were greased beforehand (outside of the rules, especially for those who are 'favored'), THAT would be like Obaka.

          So the problem is "stupid rules" I'd imagine. And I think Con-grab has to act to fix THOSE kinds of things.

          In other words, "governmentium" and the usual bureaucratic nightmare.

          This is why it's always best to get things done WITHOUT involving THEM.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

            As a kind of general reply. A bureaucrat in a position of authority has a good deal of leeway ( this can include in private enterprises) to interpret and enforce rules that are on the page, irrespective of how they were intended to work That can mean discretion to relax a time limit, and equally to enforce it stringently even when the breach is trivial, perfectly reasonable or justified. A time limit intended to prevent parties to some activity dragging out their part due to inertia, by saying that it must be completed within, say, 28 days will instead be used to prevent it happening at all, because it arrived at 29 days.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

            > "THAT would be like Obaka"

            Bob, you need to stop changing people's right names. It may make you feel like a warrior for a moment, but it's a false thrill. Others will interpret it as childish and discount what you say. Better to pin crimes on people using correct names, so no one is in doubt. ;-/

        5. Rob D.
          Thumb Down

          Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

          > I appreciate your determination to find holes in every article I write, but have you considered the fact that those rejections happened in 2017? You know, when the new administration was in power.

          Very politic - doesn't actually address the question raised nor deny that the question was valid, and seeks to divert responsibility back to the questioner along with a slice of gratuitous ad hominem.

          Shame, because simply dropping the 'Having your Pai and eating it' and the preceding two paragraphs makes the whole thing a more rounded, neutral reporting. If it is opinion rather than fact, it should be marked as such, not as 'Special Report'. Including the last part just marks the article as unnecessarily snippy, and raises questions about the intent of the rest of the article.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

        I hate to agree with Big John, but he is completely right on this point. The data reported in the article (which was released on July 19th, 2017 - pretty normal delay for this sort of statistics) relates to the US Fiscal Year 2016, which started on October 1st, 2015 and ended on September 30th, 2016. Mr. Obama was still very much the president by the time it ended, and Mr. Pai did not become the FCC chaiman until four months later. Neither him nor Mr. Trump are to blame here.

        Sorry, Kieren, but you really goofed on this one. If this were a scientific publication, either a retraction or at least an erratum would have been in order.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Timeline? What timeline...?

        Notice the date? That's during the Obama admin.

        Didn't Pres O. appoint a major cable exec in charge of the FCC? I recall a Reg article about the appointment that cried "Foul!".

        When a new administration comes in, it typically takes 18 months for all policy changes to ripple through.

  2. RonWheeler

    I have a crazy conspiracy theory

    That the greedy beggar right and the big government left are colluding to screw over Jo/e Average in the middle. Cracy I must be.

    1. LaeMing Silver badge

      Re: I have a crazy conspiracy theory

      I doubt it is collusion. More a political version of convergent evolution of scumbagness in disparate species.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pai's as greed and corrupt as Trump. His only concern is that he get a really good job at a very large ISP when he's done.

  4. davenewman

    Looks like the USAC is trying to get bribes. Need an undercover police investigation.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Not Bribes

      but a fig fat bonus(tax free and paid to an offshore account naturally) for every application rejected.

      Certainly time for a sting operation to bring this out into the public domain or at the very minimum, someone needs to file suit so that the USAC is forced to expose all the criteria they use when judging applications. Especially the ones that are unclear (As not written down and therefore liable a freedom of information request) to the FCC.

      The US equivalent of a Judicial review is needed.

      A process that is designed to fail almost everyone is probably illegal but those who have trousered the kickbacks won't care. They will be long gone before any decision is made.

  5. Florida1920 Silver badge

    It's called Class Warfare

    The elite will get fast broadband, but we don't want the lower classes competing with them, do we?

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: It's called Class Warfare

      Good call!

      Keep them barefoot and pregnant... We don't want the lower class getting intelligent and uppity, asking questions and upsetting the status quo applecart...

      Upper Class behind closed doors: "We're trying to stop a revolution here damn it!"

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: It's called Class Warfare

        How exactly is fast broadband to schools going to make the working classes "intelligent and uppity"?

        Is there any reason to believe that broadband access leads to better educational outcomes? A quick Google tells me, surprisingly few people have even tried to answer that question; and among those who have, there's no real consensus as to the answer.

        Lots of people like the idea of IT in schools. The pupils love it, because new toys. Computer providers love it, because new customers. Legislators love it, because it's a lot cheaper than raising teachers' pay or improving their training. Employers love it, because free training. But does it, y'know, work?

        If you try asking that, you're just spoiling the party.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: It's called Class Warfare

      Nailed it. There has been a concerted effort in the U.S. since before we were all born, to cripple education in any way possible.

      Grifters can't make money around smart people and the U.S. has been run by grifters for yonks.

  6. Dr. Ellen
    Big Brother

    As Always

    I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: As Always

      Here's a retort: Would you rather it be some big shot private enterprise there to help you, especially when you're not in a position to help yourself?

      1. Dr. Ellen

        Re: As Always

        Depends on the government, the enterprise, and the type of help needed. Waffle House is famous for getting restaurants up and running after a disaster, far faster than government aid. When the power's out, the power company is the one that gets the electricity grid back up and running, and in the meantime, major hospitals supply their own. In Minnesota, when the roads are covered with snow after a blizzard, all levels of government turn out to plow them. In New York City, I hear it doesn't work nearly as well.

        Business or government, though -- they all charge us for their services. The government calls the charge "taxes". The main difference is the size and complexity. Government is a large and complex thing and takes time to set into motion. Businesses are smaller and more focused, and probably more nimble.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: As Always

          Some business transcend governments into transnational entities that can play sovereignty and economies of scale to their advantage. Those are the kinds of firms I refer. The usual winners of Winner Economics.

  7. My Alter Ego

    Nothing to see here, nope, no conflict of interest.

    Ajit Pai, former Associate General Council for Verizon. I'm sure his experiences there have no relation to the FCC being overly against any broadband schemes not being run by large telecoms companies.

    And I'm sure he won't be moving back to a similar company when his tenure at the FCC is over.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nothing to see here, nope, no conflict of interest.

      I had thought the UK's telecoms regulator OFCOM led the world in sloth and ineptitude. But I have to take my hat off to our colonial cousins, and admit that when it comes to regulatory incompetence, the FCC are blazing a path to Olympic glory, and Blighty will be lucky to scrape a silver.

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Nothing to see here, nope, no conflict of interest.

      Ajit Pai's career includes 2 years and 2 months as Verizon's general counsel and 17 years of federal government service, in both executive and legislative branches, since completing law school and a clerkship with a federal judge.

      Wheeler's career includes at least 24 years as a telecommunications lobbyist or entrepreneur out of 45 between his graduation from The Ohio State University and his selection in 2013 as FCC chairman. By contemporary news reports he was on track to propose and presumably vote for not-net-neutrality until President Obama jerked his leash and changed his mind (a bit inappropriately, as the FCC is supposed to be an agency independent of the executive branch).

      Mr. Pai may or may not be hopelessly wrong about appropriate telecommunication policy, but does not warrant, any more than Mr. Wheeler, the sort of sleazy ad hominem attacks here in evidence.

  8. Tubz

    FCC under it's current administration is nothing more than the bitch of US comms cartels and not fir for purpose.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Was it that much different last administration?

      1. Swarthy Silver badge

        Was it that much different last administration?

        Yes. Wheeler may have been a long-time CableCo employee, but as head of the FCC he seemed to take a great deal of joy in screwing them over: Net Neutrality, Ending the Cable Box Rental Ripoff, encouraging competition, etc.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    School -- Let the parents know what's happening --> write to their Con-gressman

    Politicians hate having to do work.

    When enough people start turning up in their (e)mail post bag (I'd suggests snail, as it means you've made an effort) then they start making calls to the FCC and the Universal Service Administrative Company.

    They might get an answer.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: School -- Let the parents know what's happening --> write to their Con-gressman

      Mail rooms are normally near the trash rooms or the furnaces, and email boxes have automatic filters. That's why letter writing campaigns have so little impact these days. They're blocked at the gates. The only effective method is to go in person, and with today's world of employment, doing that risks one's livelihood.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: School -- Let the parents know what's happening --> write to their Con-gressman

      @John Smith

      Your politicians must be more responsive than MPs if you think that'll have an effect.

      1. A-nonCoward

        Re: School -- Let the parents know what's happening --> write to their Con-gressman

        Uh, Rural America? Weren't those the biggest supporters of the current administration?

        I guess the "eat your pie" overused phrase just fits, doesn't it?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I have 200mbps supplied by a cable provider because of open war amongst the telecoms companies. That’s what free market competition provides. This is the USA and federal funds should no go on communist schemes like this. Schools should go into the open market and buy their services. Lots of whining about a so called digital divide. Even in rural Texas every kids had a super computer in their pocket running on WiFi hotspots or 4G. I’m not seeing kids without 24hr access to Instagram - so maybe they can search for something educational rather than bullshit on their phones.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Socialism

      Schools are often run BY the governments, placing limits on their activities to avoid taxpayer gripes or even Constitutional questions (see Dress Code debates).

    2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Socialism

      0.2bps ? Dang, that's slower than wet string. I sympathises, even BT aren't that bad.

    3. Blake St. Claire

      Re: Socialism

      > I have 200mbps supplied by a cable provider because of open war

      > amongst the telecoms companies.

      And what do you pay for that? I have Comcast and Verizon FIOS available to me, but I can't get broadband-only FIOS service at even the lowest speed tier for less than $75 per month. Even harder is to get it unbundled from a phone and cable TV, the former I don't need, the latter I don't want.

      There isn't even a hint of competition.

      I call crack pipe.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Keeping America Stupid

    One school at a time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Keeping America Stupid

      let's not forget that schools aren't exactly the brightest cherry when it comes to dealing with Real Life stuff, this thing of public schools hiring a private consultant to deal with a private company that operates "on behalf" of the FCC is just so, so free enterprise.

      And all that to dig into some federal subsidy sweet money.

      Gotta love it for the artistic value alone!

  12. FrankAlphaXII

    As much as I loathe the FCC and Pai...

    Using our Governor as any kind of example when discussing funding for education probably isn't a good idea.

    She's done everything in her power to gut our already struggling schools. How nice of her to want more free money from the Federal government that her comptrollers will divert somewhere else or outright steal. At least we're done with her next year. And not a moment too soon.

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