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AT&T gets green light from fractious FCC for FiberTower

Ajit Pai

AT&T executives will be in a good mood this morning after getting the green light from the FCC to acquire FiberTower but Chairperson Ajit Pai has angered Commissioner Mignon Clyburn by not granting a vote on the matter.

Clyburn, who is one of the Democratic representatives at the FCC, is not necessarily kicking up a fuss because she disagreed with the transaction, but ignoring her request to discuss the matter is breaking with traditional and a bit of a snub. Instead of simply greenlighting the transaction, which has granted AT&T access to a horde of new spectrum assets, Clyburn requested the impact on public interest should be discussed.

Although not a concrete rule, it would seem there is a gentleman’s agreement in place that should a Commissioner object to an order put forward by a department in the FCC, it would be debated in public. Should no-one have an issue, it would pass through without a public vote.

“By objecting to proceeding on delegated authority, I do not suggest that I would have voted against this transaction,” said Clyburn. “Rather, the Bureau’s analysis is lacking in its current form. I believe that our statutory obligations, under the Communications Act, requires us to do more than simply consider whether AT&T’s 39 GHz holdings, post-transaction, exceed 1850 megahertz of millimetre wave spectrum. The Commission should also consider whether AT&T’s substantial holdings in other spectrum bands, including below 1-GHz, together with these 39 GHz licenses from FiberTower, could result in potential public interest harms.”

This is perfectly reasonable, but we have found issue with the rest of the statement:

“It has long been customary at the FCC for Bureaus planning to issue significant orders on delegated authority to provide those items to Commissioners 48 hours prior to their scheduled release. Then, if any one Commissioner asked for the Order to be brought up to the Commission level for a vote, that request would be honoured.”

The above quote is what Pai said to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on March 18 2015, according to Clyburn. By dismissing Clyburn’s request to discuss the implications of the transaction further, the Democrat Commissioner is pointing out Pai is contradicting his own position from three years ago.

Unfortunately for Clyburn this extract is actually from a wider statement where Pai was accusing the (then) Democratic majority at the FCC of ignoring Republican calls to debate orders in public prior to greenlighting. This is the very next line of Pai’s statement:

“Recently, however, the leadership (Democrat Tom Wheeler was Chairperson at the time) has refused to let the Commission vote on items where two Commissioners have made such a request. Given this trend, as well as others, I commend the subcommittee for focusing on the issue of FCC process reform, and I welcome the Chairman’s announcement this morning.”

Clyburn is complaining that her voice should be heard during the decision making process. Unfortunately, to reinforce her argument she has used a Pai quote taken from a testimony where he is complaining about his voice not being heard by the Democrats. The irony is quite baffling, and we can think of two possible explanations.

Firstly, Clyburn saw the quote but didn’t appreciate the context. Or, she saw the context but thought she could fool the reader as no-one would check where the quote came from. This is a prime example of where information is only as good as the context which is supplied with it. Unfortunately for Clyburn there are people out there who check these things.

Back to our two possible explanations. Either she has no attention to detail or she thinks very little of the reader. We’ll let you decide, but neither is an attractive trait for someone who holds public office.

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One comment

  1. Ernie Johnston 12/02/2018 @ 7:57 pm

    A third option is possible. If someone (Pai) complains about an action when it is done TO him, he is unfair, maybe even deceitful, when it is done FOR him. Consistency is key. Ethics and principles matter.

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