Deep Dive Shows FCC's Covid Response Was Largely Theatrical Nonsense

from the you're-not-helping dept

Back in March, the Trump FCC put on a big show about a new "Keep America Connected Pledge" to help broadband users during COVID. In it, the FCC proudly proclaimed that it had gotten hundreds of ISPs to suspend usage caps and late fees, and agree to not disconnect users who couldn't pay for essential broadband service during a pandemic. The problem: the 60 day pledge was entirely voluntary, temporary, and because the FCC just got done obliterating its consumer protection authority over ISPs at lobbyist behest (as part of its net neutrality repeal), was impossible to actually enforce. It was regulatory theater.

The rather meaningless pledge has since expired despite the pandemic only getting worse. And because this FCC doesn't actually care about consumer protection (it literally doesn't even collect data on who is getting kicked offline for nonpayment during a plague), many ISPs simply ignored the pledge, and kicked users offline anyway; even disabled Americans who were told repeatedly by their ISPs that they wouldn't be booted offline for nonpayment during the crisis. Meanwhile, most ISPs have also restored their bullshit, arbitrary usage caps, making them a pretty additional penny during a crisis.

This week, Kelcee Griffis did an even deeper dive into the theatrical nature of the FCC's COVID consumer efforts. She obtained 3,000 complaints submitted to the FCC between June and August, and found that in 550 cases, consumers say they were kicked offline or faced late fees despite repeated promises from providers that they wouldn't do that:

"In some instances, customers begged the providers to work out a way to keep them connected, citing relatives who recently died or were hospitalized with the coronavirus, or budget constraints due to pandemic-related layoffs. Others reported they struggled to keep their small businesses afloat amid nationwide closures and stay-at-home orders, saying ISPs only added to their woes."

In many cases, consumers argued that they were actually worse off after getting ISP "help" than they had been if they hadn't done anything at all:

"Customers in New York, Arizona and Pennsylvania said ISPs promised extended or suspended data caps but did not inform them when they must start paying again for the increased capacity, resulting in bills that ranged from about $200 to $600.

A Mesa, Arizona, customer even expressed regret that they accepted help from Cox Communications.

"Now that the [$30 monthly] COVID discount is gone, I have a bill that is $30 higher than it was six months ago," the customer wrote in late July. "That is unreasonable to me. I would have been better off not having the COVID discount since it appears to me they off-set the discount by increasing the fees for the services I had."

Unless you're one of a surprisingly large contingent of folks that thinks kissing AT&T's, Comcast's, and Verizon's asses is helpful and serious adult policy, none of this should be particularly surprising. The FCC basically self-immolated at lobbyist behest, leaving it without the authority to do much during a major health and economic crisis. Even the things the FCC could be doing -- like actually tracking what struggling Americans are getting kicked offline -- it's simply not doing. Instead, it engaged in regulatory theater designed to make it look as if having crippled regulators during a crisis isn't a bad thing.

It's all part of a deep ideological delusion that exists in many corners and is propped up by a massive industry of telecom-linked monopoly apologists. Folks who would have you believe that if you mindlessly pander to natural monopolies, freeing them from "burdensome regulations" (read: absolutely anything that could help real people, markets, or competitors at the cost of monopoly revenues) it somehow results in near-Utopian outcomes. In reality, with neither competition nor adult oversight to constrain them, natural monopolies inevitably just double down on the same bad behavior.

There's literally forty years of history making this point abundantly clear, yet the U.S. seems utterly intent on learning absolutely nothing from history or experience.

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Filed Under: broadband, competition, covid, covid-19, digital divide, fcc, keep america connected pledge, pledge
Companies: at&t, comcast, verizon


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  • icon
    Valis (profile), 11 Dec 2020 @ 7:27am

    The system is working the way it was designed

    Well, what do you expect when you're living in a fascist apartheid state? It's bloody high time for the USA to become a democracy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2020 @ 8:23am

    Soooo....

    ... it's been a few days. Is Techdirt going to talk about INGSOC ... oops, I meant Google banning people questioning what our overlords are telling US citizens about the presidential election on YouTube?

    https://blog.youtube/news-and-events/supporting-the-2020-us-election

    Or is this like the 'photos of Hunter Biden smoking crack with Ukrainian prostitutes' being memoryholed by Twitter in the last few months?

    You know, something that's supposedly in Techdirt's wheelhouse, but Masnick - like all obsequious system sycophants - ignores because he's been ordered not to rock the boat by his establishment bosses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 11 Dec 2020 @ 9:20am

      Re: Soooo....

      people questioning what our overlords are telling US citizens about the presidential election on YouTube?

      [Projects facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2020 @ 7:01pm

        Re: Re: Soooo....

        Toom, I lurk occasionally here, and have noticed a pattern with Techdirt commenters. I'm wondering: when you guys want to indicate to your boyfriends that you're about to orgasm, how often do you accidentally say "PROJECTS FACTS NOT IN EVIDENCE"!! instead of "I'm gonna come!"

        It's an interesting tic with you guys. You encounter information that conflicts with your ethnomasochist fantasy world, you instantly respond with "PFNIE!"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2020 @ 3:15am

          Re: Re: Re: Soooo....

          Perv section is down the hall

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 14 Dec 2020 @ 4:53am

          Re: Re: Re: Soooo....

          "Toom, I lurk occasionally here..."

          In other words, Baghdad Bob, you decided to try your old stunt of pretending you're a newcomer flabbergasted at people asking for facts to back up the extraordinary assertions presented?

          Because, you know, most normal people would react with "show me the proof" if some crazed bypasser started screaming about how the guy manning the news stand was a paid google plant.

          "I'm wondering: when you guys want to indicate to your boyfriends that you're about to orgasm..."

          And as is so very typical for you, you can't even swing THAT part without one of your homophobia tells sneaking into your attempt at marginalization.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2020 @ 9:23am

      Re: Soooo....

      Is Techdirt going to talk about INGSOC ... oops, I meant Google banning people questioning what our overlords are telling US citizens about the presidential election on YouTube?

      Even if it was newsworthy, the only resulting conversation that would be had here is an argument between pro-rule-of-law-damn-actual-reality idiots claiming YouTube has a "right" to forbid other parties from communicating on it's platform, and pro-freedom-of-speech idiots who can't seem to realize that they are arguing with malicious Authoritarians who just assume that only the speech worth protecting is decided by corporate shareholders behind closed doors. Influenced by major political swings that occur once every 4 to 8 years.

      Bias? Oh perish the thought.....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2020 @ 6:54pm

        Re: Re: Soooo....

        The amount of shock and surprise one feels that a Techdirt commenter associates freedom of speech with idiocy is nil.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 14 Dec 2020 @ 4:55am

          Re: Re: Re: Soooo....

          The amount of shock and surprise one feels at discovering Baghdad Bob is up to his old stunt of playing around with Tor so a "spontaneous new AC" can show up and back him up in his assertions ought to be nil...
          ...but I do confess to some surprise since that never did play out very well in his last attempts.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2020 @ 9:12am

    Once upon a time I was in favor of Congress, at least the Senate, being controlled by the party opposite the sitting president. It's better to have no new laws than to get shitty one-sided ones. But with all the damage Trump and his cronies are trying to do on his way out of the White House I've changed my tune.

    We desperately need the Georgia senate elections to go Democrat so that Biden has a shot at undoing all of McConell's and Trump's last-minute "fuck you" to America.

    Please, Georgia. Defang these assholes. Call it your Christmas gift to America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2020 @ 9:47am

      Re:

      It's better to have no new laws than to get shitty one-sided ones. But with all the damage Trump and his cronies are trying to do on his way out of the White House I've changed my tune.

      Stagnation is simply kicking the can down the road. Never fixing or addressing the issues for fear of progress. Of course there are plenty of people who would take advantage of stagnation by waiting until the issue has festered to the point of unbearable pain that any change, no matter the consequences, is accepted without resistance.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2020 @ 10:37am

        Re: Re:

        I wish there were an antidote to that. I really do. But both major parties have proven that, given the power to pass laws uninhibited, neither one is capable of governing justly. Both are corrupt. When they are forced to work together to find a solution that satisfies everyone at least there is the small chance that they won't screw things up. More often than not that doesn't help either but it does slow the creation of new terrible laws.

        waiting until the issue has festered to the point of unbearable pain that any change, no matter the consequences, is accepted without resistance.

        That's exactly where I'm at now, that I'm in favor of giving Democrats full control in the hope that they will de-Trump this country. But Biden has a lot to prove if he wants to see a second term.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2020 @ 8:11pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          This guy... this guy right here... believes Biden will not only be alive, but will have the mental and physical capacity to run for a second fucking term.

          Okay, now I am starting to think the election of Harris/Biden was legit, if there are this many absolute drooling fucking naive retards in this country. Wow. (Caveat: unless this is just a Harris/Biden staffer sockpuppeting.)

          This is peak Techdirt right here.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 11 Dec 2020 @ 11:57pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Hey, at least you guys have been so utterly defeated that you're gone from claiming that the least competent president in history secretly won an election he lost by 6 million votes, to mocking people who believe that a competent administration would be wary of his re-election chances.

            I personally can't wait to return to tan suits and mustard being the biggest scandals on the table.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2020 @ 6:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If one does not like living in the democratic republic called the US, then I believe they have the right to leave, no?

            What s your preference? Monarchy? King trump? or maybe you want a Theocracy with a state sanctioned religion with religious indoctrination via church school system . Just what sort of government do you American Taliban desire and how do you intend to obtain same? Inquiring minds want to know. Oh, and what happens to all those who disagree? You guys are nuts.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Dec 2020 @ 3:17am

      Re:

      *"Once upon a time I was in favor of Congress .....

      Hahahahahaha

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2020 @ 11:29am

    Can someone honestly say what the FCC has done during Trumps fiasco except everything possible to aid the various masdive telecoms companies while doing as little as possible to screw over the public?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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