GOP Very Excited To Be Handed An FCC Voting Majority By Joe Biden
from the own-goal dept
Consumer groups have grown all-too-politely 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 ally 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.
More interesting perhaps is the fact that interim FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel, whose term expires at the end of the year, hasn’t had her term renewed either. That means there’s an increasingly real chance the GOP enjoys a 2-1 voting majority at Biden’s FCC in the new year:
“Biden?s delay is historic: No previous president has waited this long to name a chair of the five-member body. The closest parallels are Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon, who waited until mid-September to name their agency chiefs. But Biden has blown past that deadline, alarming Capitol Hill Democrats who have few legislative days remaining this year for confirming any nominees the president might offer.”
By the time a permanent FCC boss is appointed and confirmed, it’s likely a full year and a half of policy making time will have been wasted. That’s a punch in the face to those who were looking for a Biden FCC to do popular things like restore net neutrality, meaningfully stand up to telecom mono/duopolies, or restore bipartisan media consolidation rules stripped away under Trump. It’s also a weird contrast to the Biden administration’s treatment of the FTC, which has been aggressively stocked with popular choices among folks looking for meaningful reform.
Politico, with some uncharacteristic nuance and accuracy, correctly does point out there’s some hesitation about appointing current interim FCC boss Rosenworcel permanent boss because she’s historically been an unreliable vote on major consumer advocacy issues. Like that time she killed an FCC attempt to bring competition to cable boxes because the cable industry (falsely) claimed it would kill copyright:
“Rosenworcel has alienated some Democrats in the past. During the Obama years, she proved a fickle deciding vote on the FCC?s Democratic majority, and progressives blamed her for spiking an attempted overhaul of the cable set-top box marketplace. Democratic Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden of Oregon even briefly blocked her renomination in late 2016 over their ire.”
Regardless, telecom giants and the GOP allies who love them are pleased as punch about the delay. Agency Republicans are quick to downplay the fact that the agency currently can’t do anything even remotely controversial (read: all the stuff they don’t like) without a functional voting majority:
“Republicans, meanwhile, see the status quo as an unexpected gift. They hope they can keep delaying partisan fights that would probably override their views, touting what they see as a productive bipartisan agenda under Rosenworcel?s 2-2 split.”
I’ve spent months picking the brains of DC folks for a reasonable explanation of the delay, and there really aren’t any. Some argue that it’s just a matter of staffing and resources (which again, hasn’t been a problem elsewhere like the FTC, nor is that historically ever much a problem for the GOP, which rushed to get Simington appointed in under 30 days). Some argue it’s because the top picks might be unable to pass a vote in Congress because they’re too consumer-centric (a case that you should probably be making to the public, not shying away from in fear).
My sense is the real culprit is two-fold. One, when the telecom industry saw antitrust buster Lina Khan appointed to the FTC and then quickly promoted to agency boss, they began pouring money and resources into trying to ensure the same thing didn’t happen at the FCC. I’d also argue that the myopic focus on “big tech” continues to suck most of the policy oxygen out of the room (something also actively encouraged by telecom lobbyists), consistently shifting attention away from media and telecom policy issues that are every bit as important.