In just the latest example of how far America's telecoms regulator is in the pockets of the cable giants, its panel scrutinizing US broadband rollouts has been heavily stacked with industry executives.
The Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) was announced by FCC chairman Ajit Pai in January, and formally launched [PDF] in April, where Pai said it would be charged with "getting to work on recommendations that will help break down barriers to broadband deployment."
An analysis of the committee's 30 members by The Center for Public Integrity, however, reveals that the cable industry dominates the committee, to the detriment of local city and state officials – even though the main impact of the group's recommendations will be on these public officials.
Of the 30 members, a majority – 16 – work for telecoms companies: AT&T, Comcast, and Sprint included. A further four work for Big Cable trade associations. Of the remaining 10, most are notable for their public support of Pai. Only three of the 30 are local or state officials.
What makes the selection process all the more questionable, however, is the fact that, according to the The Center for Public Integrity, no less than 64 city and state officials put their names forward for the committee, including a significant number who have first-hand experience of the very issues that the committee is expected to provide recommendations on.
One of them, Gary Carter, told the center that when he called the FCC to check on progress of the committee's selection and identified himself as an employee of the City of Santa Monica "the gentleman on the phone laughed hysterically."
He went on: "At first I didn't get the joke. When I saw the appointees for the municipal working group – only three out of 24 positions were from local government – I got the joke."
The FCC has not explained how it made its selection, nor has it identified which of its staff made the selection based on what criteria. The federal watchdog has also refused to explain its decision to give telecoms companies and their association a two-thirds majority on the committee nor why local and state officials have only been given three seats.
That majority means that any recommendations resulting from the committee will effectively emanate directly from the cable industry. Traditionally, the entire point of advisory committees is to get all sides to work on an issue and put forward recommendations that almost everyone can agree on. That, in theory, puts the federal regulator in the position of only introducing what has already been worked through, rather than be forced to act as an advocate for its own policies.
Often that system breaks down and a regulator is forced to decide whether to do nothing or take one position over another. But by stacking a committee at the very beginning with one predominant group, the FCC is giving up all pretense of neutrality.
The reason a balance between public officials and industry executives is crucial in this case is because of the work the committee will undertake.