AT&T Lightly Chastised for Airwave Piracy

Late last week the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of Apparent Liability against AT&T for running microwave radio links without the proper licenses. These links are often used as point-to-point backhauls to move data long distances, and sometimes they are used to connect cell nodes in remote locations to the larger network.

The shenanigans first came to light in 2011, when the FCC found an AT&T microwave link in Puerto Rico that was operating on the wrong frequency. The company subsequently conducted a review and found that hundreds of its microwave links were operating outside of licensed parameters and, in some cases, were not licensed at all. AT&T claims these links were part of acquisitions it made from 2009-2012, and in simple terms neglected to file the right paperwork to adequately license them. But the scale of the problem isn’t minor: at least 240 point-to-point microwave licenses in all require either major modifications or minor modifications to be brought into compliance. All have been operating outside license parameters (or without licenses at all) for three to four years. Read More

The FCC as News Police: Right Hand, Meet Left Hand

Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai is feeling his oats. After conducting a calculated and ideologically-driven campaign against a proposed FCC study of the practices and processes of journalism, the agency capitulated, killing the idea entirely. Pai reveled in his accomplishment: "In our country, the government does not tell the people what information they need. Instead, news outlets and the American public decide that for themselves."

Yet the FCC is in fact defining what news is, and it did so just last month—before Pai went on the warpath about the FCC as "newsroom police." Read More

Abusing the Bully Pulpit

It’s common for members of the Federal Communications Commission to use their positions as bully pulpits for favored causes. For example, Frieda Hennock (the agency’s first female Commissioner) pressed for an expansion of noncommercial broadcasting in the United States. Former Chairman Mark Fowler spoke loudly and often from the bully pulpit, decrying the regulation of media more broadly and precipitating the wildly neoliberal paradigm that has captured contemporary regulation.

More recently, Chairman William Kennard spoke out against media consolidation by advocating for the creation of the LPFM radio service, while Commissioner Mignon Clyburn spearheaded a drive to drastically reduce the rates for making calls from prisons, among many other initiatives during her stint as interim Chair.

But sometimes the bully pulpit provides a way to dissent from agency practices, the idea being that public scrutiny may pressure some change from within. Former Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein were famous for touring the country and holding public hearings to learn what actual Americans thought about the state of their media environment. Read More