Sen. Manchin Lifts Hold on FCC's Carr

Sen. Joe Manchin (D.W.Va.), has lifted his hold on the nomination of FCC commissioner Brendan Carr to a full term after getting assurances from FCC chair Ajit Pai he would re-start the FCC's Mobility Fund Phase II broadband subsidy program as soon as possible and get more funding for Manchin's home state.

The hold, which only dates from last week, stemmed from Pai's decision to pause the broadband subsidy program while the FCC investigates whether a major carrier or carriers did not provide accurate information on where broadband service was or wasn't available.

The lift on the Carr hold could free up a vote on Democrat Geoffrey Starks, whose full-Senate vote--he has already been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee--had been held up by Republicans, who generally want to pair up Republican and Democrat nominee votes but couldn't with the hold on Carr. 

Pai said last week that one or more "major" telecom carriers may have violated the FCC's Mobility Fund Phase II reverse auction mapping rules and has suspended the process of handing out about $4.5 billion in subsidies over the next 10 years, pending an investigation he has just launched.

The FCC built a coverage map from that data to determine where subsidies should go and whether they should not because they would be overbuilding existing service. If carriers overstate where high-speed broadband is already being provided, it reduces the areas that qualify for the subsidy, which is generally targeted at rural areas like Manchin's state.

Manchin actually was granted status to challenge the FCC's map as part of a process the FCC created to try and make sure the map was as accurate as possible, and if not find that out.The senator agrees the info is not correct, but also did not want the FCC to stop supplying funds to areas about which there is not debate while the FCC investigates. 

In a letter to Manchin Wednesday (Dec. 19), Pai said he was "publicly committed to ensuring a terrain factor is included because it is essential to ensure that places like West Virginia that are well known for challenging and rugged terrain will receive additional support."

“I am pleased that I was able to secure this commitment from chairman Pai on Mobility Fund Phase II,” Senator Manchin said in response. “This mobile broadband funding is critical and will bring us one step closer to bridging the digital divide in West Virginia. All Americans, no matter their area code, deserve to have access to high speed, reliable internet service, and I look forward to continuing to work with chairman Pai and commissioner Carr to make this a reality.” 

Carr is currently serving out the unexpired term of former chair Tom Wheeler, which expired in June. But he can continue to serve until the end of the next Congress--January 2020. He was narrowly approved (14 to 13) by the Senate Commerce Committee last January for that full, five-year, term, but never got a full Senate vote because of another hold, again not due to anything he had done but to Democrats' general disaffection with Republicans.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.