FCC Chairman Defends Decision to Bar 9 Companies From Subsidized Internet Program

Ajit Pai raises ire of net neutrality advocates, says move protects from “waste, fraud and abuse”

New Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has wasted no time getting used to his role, dropping inquiries into free data perks offered by wireless providers. It’s a decision that has raised the ire of net neutrality advocates, stopping nine companies from participating in a federal program, Lifeline, that subsidizes internet service for low-income communities.

Pai has also taken to the internet to defend the latter move, explaining it as a necessary step to address fraud and waste in the program and criticizing the previous administration for ramming the providers’ applications through.

In a post that first appeared on Medium and was republished on the agency’s website, Pai set out to address “media headlines [that] have sensationalized this story and given some an entirely misleading impression of what is going on” with a seven-point argument.

Pai wrote that his decision affected just nine of more than 900 providers participating in the program, and none of their applications have been rejected — only being given further consideration. He added that only one of the providers even had any existing customers and blasted his predecessors for disregarding “the well-established process for approving applications like these.”

Pai also highlighted an investigation he led last year that he said revealed “serious weaknesses in federal safeguards, allowing providers to indiscriminately override checks that are supposed to prevent wasteful and fraudulent activities,” as justification for further vetting of the nine Lifeline applicants.

“Every dollar that is spent on subsidizing somebody who doesn’t need the help by definition does not go to someone who does,” he wrote. “That means that the Commission needs to make sure that there are strong safeguards against waste, fraud, and abuse before expanding the program to new providers.”

“Hyperbolic headlines always attract more attention than mundane truths,” Pai wrote. “For example, a story detailing how the FCC was undertaking further review of the eligibility of 1 percent of Lifeline providers wouldn’t generate too many clicks.”