Trump’s F.C.C. Pick Rolls Back Consumer Protection Regulations

 Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has taken a first swipe at net neutrality. Credit Christopher Gregory/The New York Times


Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has taken a first swipe at net neutrality. Credit Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

In his first days as President Trump’s pick to lead the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai has aggressively moved to roll back consumer protection regulations created during the Obama presidency.

Mr. Pai took a first swipe at net neutrality rules designed to ensure equal access to content on the internet. He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down, and he scrapped a proposal to break open the cable box market.

In total, as the chairman of the F.C.C., Mr. Pai released about a dozen actions in the last week, many buried in the agency’s website and not publicly announced, stunning consumer advocacy groups and telecom analysts. They said Mr. Pai’s message was clear: The F.C.C., an independent agency, will mirror the Trump administration’s rapid unwinding of government regulations that businesses fought against during the Obama administration.

“With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes,” said Matt Wood, the policy director at the consumer group Free Press.

“The public wants an F.C.C. that helps people,” he added. “Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”

Mr. Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, was elevated by Mr. Trump to the position of chairman after serving as a minority Republican member for the past three years. Known for being a stickler on conservative interpretations of telecommunications law and the limits of the F.C.C.’s authority, Mr. Pai said he was trying to wipe the slate clean.

The efforts portend great changes at the federal agency at the center of the convergence of media, telecommunications and the internet. The biggest target will be net neutrality, a rule created in 2015 that prevents internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against internet traffic. The rule, which was created alongside a decision to categorize broadband like a utility, was the tech centerpiece of the Obama administration.

On Friday, the F.C.C. took its first steps to pull back those rules, analysts said. Mr. Pai closed an investigation into zero-rating practices of the wireless providers T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon. Zero-rating is the offering of free streaming and other downloads that do not count against limits on the amount of data a consumer can download.

Most troubling to consumer advocates was the secrecy around Mr. Pai’s early actions. That included a decision to rescind the permissions of nine broadband providers to participate in a federal subsidy plan for low-income consumers. None of the providers currently serve low-income consumers, but Mr. Pai’s comments could foreshadow a shake-up of the Lifeline low-income subsidy program.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site here.

Richest 62 billionaires as wealthy as half the world population combined

 Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

A new Oxfam report shows that the 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population.

Mark Goldring, the Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “It is simply unacceptable that the poorest half of the world population owns no more than a small group of the global super-rich – so few, you could fit them all on a single coach.

“World leaders’ concern about the escalating inequality crisis has so far not translated into concrete action to ensure that those at the bottom get their fair share of economic growth. In a world where one in nine people go to bed hungry every night, we cannot afford to carry on giving the richest an ever bigger slice of the cake.”

Leading figures from Pope Francis to Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, have called for action to reverse the trend in inequality, but Oxfam said words had not been translated into action. Its prediction that the richest 1% would own the same wealth as the poorest 50% by 2016 had come true a year earlier than expected.

The World Economic Forum in Davos comes amid fears that the turmoil in financial markets since the turn of the year may herald the start of a new phase to the global crisis that began eight years ago – this time originating in the less-developed emerging countries.

Oxfam said a three-pronged approach was needed: a crackdown on tax dodging; higher investment in public services; and higher wages for the low paid. It said a priority should be to close down tax havens, increasingly used by rich individuals and companies to avoid paying tax and which had deprived governments of the resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality.

Three years ago, David Cameron told the WEF that the UK would spearhead a global effort to end aggressive tax avoidance in the UK and in poor countries, but Oxfam said promised measures to increase transparency in British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, such as the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands, had not been implemented.

Goldring said: “We need to end the era of tax havens which has allowed rich individuals and multinational companies to avoid their responsibilities to society by hiding ever increasing amounts of money offshore.

Read the complete article in The Guardian newspaper web site.

Guaranteed Income making the rounds in Canada, again.

Does it make economic sense to provide a Guaranteed Income to people in Canada? Myself and others believe it does.

The idea of giving money to the poor without strings is not new. It melds altruism and libertarianism, saying both that the best way to fight poverty is to put cash in poor people’s pockets and that people can make their own choices better than bureaucrats can. As a result, it can find support in theory from both left and right.

It has been tested with success in other countries. European nations such as France and Austria, which spend slightly less than one-fifth of their gross domestic products on cash transfers to low-income citizens, have had far more success reducing poverty than Canada has.

In the only experiment of its kind in North America, every household in Dauphin, Manitoba, in the mid 1970’s, was given access to a guaranteed annual budget, subject to their income level. For a family of five, payments equalled about $18,000 a year in today’s dollars.

Politicians primarily wanted to see if people would stop working. While the project was pre-empted by a change in government, a second look by researchers has found that there was only a slight decline in work – mostly among mothers, who chose to stay home with their children, and teenaged boys, who stayed in school longer.

Evelyn Forget, a researcher in medicine at the University of Manitoba, reports that Dauphin also experienced a 10-per-cent drop in hospital admissions and fewer doctor visits, especially for mental-health issues.

This week, a House of Commons committee on poverty released a report proposing a guaranteed basic income for Canadians with disabilities, on the model already available to seniors.

Read the whole article in the Globe and Mail here.