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WASHINGTON, DC, April 20, 2020 — In comments filed today, New America’s Open Technology Institute and Common Cause criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for failing to protect public safety and low-income Americans’ access to the internet. The comments were filed in response to a federal court order that admonished the FCC for ignoring these critical issues when it repealed net neutrality rules in 2017. OTI and Common Cause called this failure a “dereliction of duty” and urged the agency to correct its past mistakes. The comments also highlighted the ways in which the FCC’s misguided repeal of net neutrality has undermined the agency’s ability to protect people during the COVID-19 pandemic and expand access to the Lifeline program.

OTI and Common Cause also condemned the FCC for rejecting a request from first responders in New York and California who asked for more time to file comments in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has overwhelmed their localities. OTI supported the request, noting that the court specifically criticized the FCC for ignoring first responders in 2017 and thus has a heightened obligation to ensure their participation now. 

Joshua Stager, Senior Policy Counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“When the FCC repealed net neutrality two years ago, it completely disregarded its duty to protect public safety. We are now paying the price for that mistake. As stay-at-home orders shift much of American life to internet service providers, the FCC has no power to hold them accountable. All it can do is issue press releases.

“Even worse, today Chairman Pai rejected a reasonable request from first responders who asked for more time to explain how the FCC’s actions have impacted public safety. This is an outrageous slap in the face to people who are busy on the front lines of a global pandemic. They are also precisely the people that a federal court faulted the FCC for ignoring in 2017.

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“Whether it’s firefighters being throttled during wildfires or public health officials simply asking for more time during a pandemic, Chairman Pai has repeatedly made clear that the FCC will not help first responders. These actions raise serious questions about the FCC’s commitment to public safety and whether it will comply with the court’s remand order. We urge the FCC to rethink its approach and demonstrate that it understands the reality of what first responders are dealing with.”

Yosef Getachew, Media & Democracy Program Director at Common Cause:

“Broadband has never been more critical to everyday life than it is now. With shelter in place and social distancing orders in effect, Americans expect adequate protections, and affordable and competitive broadband services when accessing the internet. That is why the FCC’s authority to oversee the broadband marketplace is critical: to ensure universal service, broadband competition, and public safety. The FCC’s repeal of net neutrality and abdication of its authority over broadband raises serious questions about the agency’s ability to carry out these Congressional mandates.

“Americans cannot afford to miss out on opportunities to get and remain connected, particularly when the consequences of not having broadband are so high during the pandemic. The FCC must ensure it has adequate authority to act as a cop on the beat in an uncompetitive broadband marketplace and has all the necessary tools to protect public safety, promote competitive broadband services, and ensure consumers have robust and affordable connectivity.”