Biden Has Wasted A Year Failing To Fill Top Telecom Oversight Spots
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
Consumer groups have grown increasingly annoyed at the Biden administration’s failure to pick a third Democratic Commissioner and permanent FCC boss nearly eight months into his term. After the rushed Trump appointment of unqualified Trump BFF Nathan Simington to the agency (as part of that dumb and now deceased plan to have the FCC regulate social media), the agency now sits gridlocked at 2-2 commissioners under interim FCC head Jessica Rosenworcel.
While the FCC can still putter along tackling its usual work on spectrum and device management, the gridlock means it can’t do much of anything controversial, like reversing Trump-era attacks on basic telecom consumer protections, media consolidation rules, or the FCC’s authority to hold telecom giants accountable for much of, well, anything. If you’re a telecom giant like AT&T or Comcast, that’s the gift that just keeps on giving.
As the Washington Post notes, the Biden camp hasn’t appointed anybody to lead the other top telecom regulatory agency, the NTIA. The inaction on both the NTIA and FCC appointments are setting records:
“Nearly eight months into his presidency, Biden has yet to pick permanent leaders for the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department?s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which together oversee and set policy for the broadcast and Internet service industries. For the FCC, that?s slower than any president since Jimmy Carter in 1977 ? just by a few days ? and for NTIA, it?s the longest ever since the agency?s founding in 1978.
Adding some complexity to this mess is the fact that interim FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel’s term is up at the end of the year. So if this trend of telecom policy apathy continues, there’s the possibility that the GOP could enjoy a 2-1 Commissioner majority at the Biden FCC. Which, you know, isn’t great if you care about doing absolutely anything to hold regional telecom monopolies accountable. During a pandemic. In which broadband has been shown to be essential infrastructure. And during a climate crisis. When companies are showing their networks still aren’t resilient enough. It’s bad, is what I’m saying. Even if your primary goal isn’t restoring net neutrality and FCC authority.
While the Biden administration certainly inherited a lot to deal with, there’s really no excuse for the delay. It’s not as if the administration is being asked to build a nuclear reactor out of string cheese and lint — it’s just some regulatory appointments and hearings. At this rate, by the time the FCC appoints somebody, it will take most of the rest of the year to get them seated. So whereas the Trump GOP set about dismantling telecom consumer protection with a brutal efficiency, the Biden team will have wasted an entire year. Consumer groups are being polite about it, but it’s a big screw up:
“We’ve had a lost year in policymaking because of the slowness of the Biden administration to name a full FCC,? said Christopher Lewis, president and CEO of consumer group Public Knowledge, which backs reinstating the Obama-era net neutrality rules. ?It’s probably the biggest missed opportunity we have had in communications policy this year.”
The Ajit Pai Donald Trump GOP assault on the FCC’s consumer protection authority was relentless, ruthless, and incredibly efficient. Nathan Simington, generally viewed as unqualified for the role given his lack of telecom experience, got his FCC spot with a 31 day rushed appointment. The Democrats had an opportunity to be equally efficient and ruthless in appointing their picks and restoring FCC authority, and instead they’ve chosen to trip over their own asses. Nobody I’ve spoken to anywhere in DC can provide a functional reason why telecom oversight has simply been forgotten.
Though it is worth reminding folks that the myopic DC internet policy focus on “big tech” is something telecom and media giants (from AT&T to Rupert Murdoch) have actively and repeatedly encouraged. They want the focus exclusively on the large tech giants whose ad empires they covet and not on their own monopolization, privacy, or other problems. It’s also worth reminding folks that there was no such delay, controversy, or consternation when it came time to give Comcast lobbyist David Cohen (a top Biden fundraiser) a kushy job as Canadian Ambassador.
At some point you have to assume that whoever has Biden’s ear likes having an FCC whose consumer protection authority has been largely lobotomized courtesy of one of the most scandal prone and unpopular policy proceedings in internet policy history.