Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

How the FCC got boxed out of the broadband push

As the federal government readies to spend tens of billions of dollars on broadband upgrades, the Federal Communications Commission — the agency that has traditionally doled out subsidies for internet connections — is on the sidelines.

Driving the news: The bipartisan infrastructure bill recently approved by the Senate commits $42.5 billion to broadband deployment and related projects, but the money would flow to the states, with oversight from the Commerce Department.


The intrigue: The broadband money got routed around the FCC for several reasons, according to insiders familiar with the process.

  • The White House will be able to exert greater control over how the money is awarded if the Commerce Department is in charge rather than an independent agency like the FCC.
  • Sources noted that Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was a key player in the infrastructure negotiations.
  • The FCC has also come under fire recently for how it handled awarding $9 billion for broadband in rural areasin 2020.

What happened: Critics say the program, known as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), was rushed in order to begin before the end of the Trump administration.

  • Problems with the accuracy of the FCC's broadband maps led to complaints about funds being awarded to provide broadband in parking lots.
  • There are also concerns that the agency did not thoroughly vet companies before allowing them into the auction, leading to questions about whether providers who won subsidies will be able to deliver service.
  • "If the RDOF had been more successful, I think the FCC would’ve had a very significant role [in the new funding]," Blair Levin, a non-resident fellow with Brookings Institution, told Axios. "On the other hand, I think if we’re talking about this magnitude of money, the senators, many of whom are former governors, wanted governors to have more power."

What's next: The FCC said in July it's taking steps to "clean up" the program.

  • The agency sent letters to 97 companies that won funding in questionable locations to allow them to withdraw without penalties.
  • "For those applicants who are dragging their feet or can’t meet their obligations, follow the rules or we will disqualify you and move on," acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement last month.
  • The agency budgeted up to $16 billion for the program, but only awarded $9 billion. The extra money can be spent on a second phase of the program.

What they're saying: "The FCC stands ready to help get 100% of Americans connected in any way that Congress sees fit," an FCC spokesperson told Axios Tuesday.

What's next: House Democrats are expected to approve the bill as is rather than blow up the Senate's hard-won compromise — but not until after they also pass a much bigger, Democrats-only "soft infrastructure" bill.

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

Keep reading... Show less

Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

Keep reading... Show less

"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

Keep reading... Show less

What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories