FCC Chairman Testifies on COVID-19 Measures

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai testified before the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, regarding “critical consumer protection, broadband and spectrum issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Chairman Pai noted that since he became the Chairman, his “top priority has been to close the digital divide.” He notes that “with the coronavirus pandemic, Internet connectivity is more important than ever” because people are using it to work from home, take classes online, utilize telehealth and stay connected to family and friends.

On March 13, Chairman Pai ordered American “broadband and telephone service providers to pledge that for 60 days, no consumer or small business would have service cut off or be charged late fees because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.” He stated that he “also challenged them to open up their Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs them”; this is part of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. At least 700 providers, who serve the majority of Americans, agreed to this pledge. At the end of April, Chairman Pai extended the commitment till June 30,noting that “the Pledge has been critical to maintaining connectivity for millions of Americans.” Pai added that more providers joined the Pledge extension, totaling 774. Additionally, the Chairman stated that many providers have exceeded the commitments of the Pledge. “Many companies, large and small, have offered free of discounted service for low-income Americans and students, lifted data caps, and increased broadband speeds at no cost to meet the increased demand for telework and distance learning.”

Chairman Pai stated that American networks are handling the increased demand well. “One reason our networks have been able to handle the traffic increase is that we’ve seen significant investments and improvements in our broadband infrastructure in recent years.” Furthermore, the FCC “has taken targeted actions to boost the performance of our wireless networks…[the Commission] quickly granted several wireless providers Special Temporary Authority to use additional spectrum to meet customer demand for mobile broadband across the United States.”

The FCC has also launched its COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which is part of the CARES Act. The FCC has “funded 82 health care providers in 30 states.”

Chairman Pai also addressed consumer protection measures. He shared that “[u]nfortunately, scammers are promoting bogus cures, offering fake test kits, sending hoax text messages, and generally preying on virus-related fears. The Commission is doing all it can to help consumers avoid these scams.” The FCC “demanded that three gateway providers stop bringing COVID-19-related scam robocalls into the country.” This effort was successful. The Commission also launched a COVID-19 Consumer Warnings and Safety Tip webpage to alert and warn consumers of scams related to the pandemic.

Chairman Pai added that the Commission has continued to work smoothly, including continuing its efforts with opening the 6 GHz band to unlicensed operations, which will increase mid-band spectrum availability for Wi-Fi.

The FCC will soon provide notice for proposed rulemaking to implement Congress’ Broadband Data Act, which will require the Commission to change how it “collects, verifies, and reports broadband data used in crafting coverage maps,” which includes a “dataset of geocoded information for all broadband service locations.”