The Trump Administration has an amazing opportunity to affect tech and telecom policy. His appointments to the Federal Communications Commission will make all the difference in what has been a bitterly divisive and aggressive left-wing term under Chairman Tom Wheeler.
That is if he gets to make any appointments.
Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid and President Obama are making a last ditch effort to control the Internet. They are circulating a petition to lift the hold on Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and have her reconfirmed next week just before Congress recesses.
Under this scenario, Republicans are on the verge of destroying one of the largest sectors of the economy. For what?
The best Trump and the Republicans can hope for is a 2-2 split on the FCC period. Wheeler has made it clear that he will not follow the tradition of the outgoing administration’s chairman stepping down. Wheeler plans to stay. At least an even split would prevent them from forcing through more anti-free market regulations, and teach Wheeler to compromise.
A 2-2 split slows down the new commission’s ability to make reforms and reexamine the highly controversial, overbearing, partisan rulings from the last few years.
A 3-2 Democrat controlled FCC means the commission will immediately start pushing through regulations that Wheeler yanked from the Commission’s November meeting agenda — items that Chairmen John Thune, Fred Upton, and Greg Walden all asked Wheeler to hold off on. Wheeler refused to listen to any congressional guidance, be it from Republicans or Democrats, before President-elect Trump’s election.
If Rosenworcel is reconfirmed it is not to solidify the reconfirmation of Commissioner Ajit Pai. He has a year left in his term. With her reconfirmation the FCC stays under Democrat control under the Trump administration. And the President-elect is robbed of his ability to nominate two new commissioners.
The current commission should not be rewarded for its bad behavior. Just today an article in the Hill by Larry Spiwak detailed some of Tom Wheeler’s shamefully partisan moves :
- Attempting to force non-profits filing in commission proceedings to reveal their donor lists in clear violation of Supreme Court precedent;
- Improperly coordinating with the White House to encourage mass “clicktivism” as probative evidence to support the FCC’s controversial decision to reclassify broadband internet access as a Title II common carrier telecommunications service while deliberately ignoring any serious economic analysis of the issue;
- Hiring people for senior leadership positions at the commission even though they filed as interested parties in dockets they were later tasked with supervising, thus creating a serious conflict of interest problem;
- Illegally attempting to hold a Twitter town hall with an outside party to discuss a yet-to-be-released commission item during the Sunshine Act “quiet period”;
- Only making public the results of an internal peer review critical of the FCC’s economic analysis in the Business Data Services proceeding on the very day comments were due, thus depriving interested parties of an opportunity for meaningful comment;
- Continuing to lie to the American people that cable and satellite companies allegedly charge consumers $231 a year in set-top box rental fees, even though that number was thoroughly and publicly debunked;
- Improperly expanding the FCC’s important merger review authority to impose conditions and “voluntary commitments” to serve select political constituencies and priorities that by any reasonable account had no nexus to any specific merger-related harm;
- And as perhaps the most partisan act Wheeler grasping the hands of his fellow Democratic commissioners and raising them high over their heads in a victory salute to a standing ovation after the Open Internet Order vote. Such childish behavior simply confirmed what every telecommunications professional already knew: Wheeler had no intention of conducting a dispassionate analysis and viewing all parties equally before the law. (I shudder to think what would happen if several justices of the Supreme Court were to do the same after a controversial ideological vote.)
Senate Republicans should not be making last minute deals with Obama and Harry Reid. They should continue to hold the line so that President Trump can name the new appointees to the commission.