The only positive—if it can be called that—in this entire tragic pandemic is that it has laid bare the inadequacies of our infrastructure, our economic structure, and the conservative political philosophy of running the government like a Ponzi scheme. When Trump’s pick to chair the FCC, Ajit Pai, helped roll back net neutrality consumer protections, he did so by arguing that the FCC had no right to enforce any regulations on big telecommunications companies. The argument was that the internet is not the same level of essential utility that phones or the telegraph is. It was bullshit, and Pai’s subsequent contradictory moves and statements have proven that.
A couple of weeks ago, Pai, now heading a toothless regulatory body, scrambled to make it look like his Republican-led agency’s gutting of consumer protections was not going to pose an enormous problem. Pai and the Republicans on the FCC had given away their powers to force telecommunications to do right by the American people. To that end, Pai was able to get most of the internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast to sign a thing called the “Keep Americans Connected” pledge that said they would be super awesome during the COVID-19 pandemic. Well, since they don’t actually have to, it turns out that telecoms aren’t keeping that pledge.
The pledge that Pai hurriedly got telecoms to sign said things like they would not “terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.” It also said telecoms promised to “waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic.” According to NBC News, telecoms decided they didn’t care so much for those promises.
NBC gives case after case of newly unemployed workers and recently furloughed workers who have found their services cut off, and mixed messages coming from their providers. Cleveland.com tells the story of a woman who had her phone cut off in the middle of a telemedicine visit with her brother’s doctor, even after she spoke with a representative who assured her they would allow her to pay off her bill with a soon-to-be-received disability check.
The important thing to realize here is that there is no recourse for this. The FCC, in repealing net neutrality protections, has in essence given up the right to do much of anything except shake their fingers.