Trump, GOP Prepare To Gut FCC Boss Tom Wheeler's Populist Reforms…Under The False Banner Of Populist Reform

from the autopilot-to-oblivion dept

So we’ve noted a few times over the years how current FCC boss Tom Wheeler was a bit of a surprise for many of us covering the telecom sector. As a former wireless and cable lobbyist with some unclear policy positions, alarm bells were raised when his appointment to the chairman spot was first announced. But as Wheeler’s tenure rolled on, he wound up being arguably one of the most consumer and startup-friendly FCC leaders in the history of the agency (which, given the agency’s history as a rubber stamp for large broadband providers, admittedly wasn’t a particularly high water mark).

Under Wheeler, the FCC raised the definition of broadband to 25 Mbps (to highlight competition gaps for next-gen speeds), passed and successfully defended net neutrality rules, imposed some relatively basic broadband privacy protections for consumers, fought for an open and more competitive cable box market, fought (albeit unsuccessfully) to stop incumbent ISPs from writing protectionist state laws, and did something few of his predecessors (of either political alignment) could bother to do: admit the U.S. broadband market was uncompetitive. I was so shocked by Wheeler that I issued a mea culpa.

But that was then, and this is now.

With a Trump victory in the books, Wheeler is now headed for the door. While his tenure technically extends until 2018, it’s generally customary for the current FCC boss to step down as chairman. While Wheeler could legally stick around as a regular commissioner, it’s not clear Wheeler wants to spend his retirement years playing Sisyphus. Fearing Wheeler might continue, well, trying to help consumers in the months before his departure, the chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee this week officially asked Wheeler to avoid trying to implement any “controversial” or “partisan” efforts in his final months in office:

“I strongly urge the FCC to avoid directing its attention and resources in the coming months to complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing,? Senator John Thune wrote Tuesday in a letter to Wheeler…Any action taken by the FCC following November 8, 2016, will receive particular scrutiny,? the GOP lawmaker proclaimed.”

At this point we should probably remind you that the GOP has hounded Wheeler for several years now with an endless series of pointless “accountability” hearings with one core function: shame Wheeler for standing up to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. Absolutely everything Wheeler has done has been deemed “controversial” by the GOP, which was particularly incensed over net neutrality and the reclassification of ISPs as common carriers (necessary to legally defend the rules). In each hearing, Wheeler was cool under pressure despite being repeatedly shamed for simply doing his job.

People should also probably be reminded that much of what the GOP tries to insist are “partisan” issues in telecom in fact have broad bipartisan support. Net neutrality, for example, is framed as “divisive” and “partisan” by the GOP, yet has broad support from members of both political parties. Similarly, municipal broadband (communities building their own networks or striking public/private partnerships to address private market failure) is often tagged as “partisan” by the GOP, despite the fact that the idea has broad bipartisan support, and most community broadband networks are built in Conservative areas.

The public’s disdain for companies like Comcast and their lobbyist stranglehold of government is damn near universal, and indisputibly bipartisan.

Much like former FCC boss Kevin Martin did when Democrats made a similar request in 2008, Wheeler was quick to bow to GOP pressure and wipe the FCC calendar clean. With that decision the FCC is effectively now on autopilot, and most of the remaining items on Wheeler’s agenda (especially attempts to bring competition to the cable box) can be considered dead. Needless to say, consumer advocacy groups like Public Knowledge weren’t all that impressed with the FCC’s decision to give up on a number of items (like legacy business data services pricing) the agency had been working on for years:

“…the agenda items address real and pressing problems in the broadband marketplace. These problems do not simply go away due to an administration change. When Republicans take over, they will need to address the same competitive problems, or explain to the American people why they plan to perpetuate our broadband duopoly.”

A number of the things the FCC put on hold at GOP request were simply normal operational efforts the GOP would have needed to address anyway — including efforts to create a new roaming standard and to classify Voice over LTE (a higher quality audio standard). Senator Ron Wyden also issued a statement pointing out that the freeze also impacts efforts to try and expand funding for wireless broadband in more rural markets — markets that Trump repeatedly paid ample lip service to throughout his campaign:

“I regularly hear from Oregonians in rural counties that it is clear high costs are preventing private sector broadband investment in parts of rural Oregon. The FCC must fulfill its responsibility to provide a lifeline to rural communities and a connection to the global economy. Wireless cell service and broadband internet spur economic opportunity, improve public safety and increase educational outcomes for rural Americans. Any delay causes these rural communities to wait even longer for help,” said Wyden.”

What happens next isn’t entirely clear, but early signs aren’t promising if you prefer your regulators independent and with a dash of backbone. Trump’s telecom transition team is being led by Jeffrey Eisenach, a think tanker with direct ties to telecom (yet not technically a “lobbyist”) who has vehemently opposed nearly every pro-consumer policy the agency has ever implemented. Also on Trump’s advisory team is Rep. Marsha Blackburn, whose faithful support of AT&T and protectionist state laws has played a starring role in ensuring that her state of Tennessee remains a broadband backwater.

Trump has said he opposes net neutrality (even if it’s not clear he actually understands what it is), suggesting those rules will either be scrapped — or simply not enforced. Eisenach has similarly made it abundantly clear he sees the FCC’s future as one in which its influence over broadband is negligible to non-existent, and net neutrality is no longer the law of the land. In an editorial written over at The Hill in 2010, Eisenach blasted net neutrality as a “radical scheme” crafted (ironically) by bogus populists:

“Boiled down to the basics, in other words, net neutrality is a massive scheme for what Richard Posner termed ?taxation by regulation? ? the transfer of wealth from one group to another by means of government regulation….The populist rhetoric of (net neutrality supporting groups) often strikes a radical pose, but the real radicalism of net neutrality lies in the naked use of Federal regulatory power to redistribute wealth.

Eisenach, like so many incumbent ISP allies at the time, intentionally ignored the fact that net neutrality is something the public wanted by an overwhelming, bipartisan degree. And there’s nothing “radical” about preventing Comcast, AT&T or Verizon from using their last mile monopolies or arbitrary usage caps to give their own content an unfair market advantage (something they’re already happily doing with zero rating). What would be “radical” would be ignoring the will of the public and gutting net neutrality, a decision that will make the SOPA uprisings look like a small summer picnic.

While Eisenach picks a new FCC boss who shares his antiquated views, the GOP will be working on crafting entirely new broadband-industry-friendly laws. The GOP has long promised to rewrite the Communications Act with a strict focus on defunding and defanging the FCC, keeping the agency far away from the “amazing innovation” they believe magically blossoms when you refuse to protect consumers or regulate broken, uncompetitive markets. Efforts to try and do this previously have hit brick walls thanks, in large part, to the popularity of net neutrality — a popularity the GOP seems intent on ignoring.

By now, most Comcast or AT&T customers should realize the GOP’s antiquated claims that broadband is a healthy “free market” made better by gutless regulators is dated rhetoric from a bygone era of hot garbage. And while you’ll be hearing a lot of “let’s wait and see” in the months leading up to inauguration, there’s every indication the FCC will soon be reverting to its role as a rubber stamp for sector giants. Despite some potentially empty Trump campaign promises to fight the AT&T Time Warner Merger, Trump, the GOP and his transition team have made it brutally clear (in both commentary and transition hiring) that their plan for the FCC involves something in between a solid hamstringing and a frontal lobotomy.

To make it very clear: we’re gutting the FCC right at the point the agency was starting to actually listen to consumers for arguably the first time in its history — ironically, idiotically or insultingly (pick two) under the banner of “populist reform.” But overreach on net neutrality, and Trump will find himself not only on a collision course with net neutrality activists, but also with Trump supporters who signed on believing the Manhattan billionaire was leading a populist revolt.

Wheeler’s tenure floundered a bit at the tail end thanks to the agency’s refusal to seriously address zero rating, sneaky industry fees, or usage caps and unreliable meters. Even then, most consumers will remember Wheeler fondly as the first FCC Commissioner in the broadband era from either party that was at least willing to actually listen to the will of the public — a public that’s sick to death of uncompetitive broadband markets caused by letting AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast quite literally write protectionist laws that only serve to ensure market dysfunction continues.

While the future is uncertain, one thing seems likely: Wheeler’s shortcomings on subjects like zero rating are going to seem downright charming compared to the regulatory landscape currently being constructed by the next administration. Tom Wheeler, the man who went from dingo to net neutrality hero, was the closest thing to a true populist the modern FCC has ever had. Completely gutting net neutrality and his other efforts isn’t “populist reform,” it’s the political and intellectual equivalent of a roundhouse kick directly to the face of the American citizenry.

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Comments on “Trump, GOP Prepare To Gut FCC Boss Tom Wheeler's Populist Reforms…Under The False Banner Of Populist Reform”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Have a lot of pro trump friends.

I keep telling them that Trump is not likely to really do anything. Like Hillary, I am expecting more of the same. Once Trump gets in, he will have to face down hoards of corrupt bastards needing him to continue to allow that corruption or else.

If you voted for either Hillary or Trump, you probably need to get out of politics because it is becoming clear you are terrible voting material!

Let’s see if Trump will live up to anything he claims, I already see the waffling spin up. I already see a whole lot of mouth breathers starting to buddy up around the campfire for a slice of that pie!

TD’s love affair with Wheeler is nauseating! Wheeler is a surprise, but his new rules are just more of the ‘lets get these turds to like while we screw them over’ regulation that is so typical of these agencies! Put your tongue back in your mouth TD and close it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Have a lot of pro trump friends.

Did you read the parts in the new laws that made it clear that the FCC could arbitrarily decide what is and is not okay?

Sure, as long as a ‘decent’ person is in the position it is not likely to be abused, but we already know based on history that this position is traditionally held by an industry whore. Even Wheeler was an industry whore, we are just surprised that he turned out better.

Either way, the new rules didn’t do much, of course Congress certainly hurt matters as well so I do not blame the FCC for all of it, but the FCC’s history in this cannot be dismissed.

But if that is your take away based on my post then fair warning, you might be an easily fooled individual, just letting you know right now!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Have a lot of pro trump friends.

The FCC implemented Net Neutrality in a way that prevented itself from arbitrarily deciding what is and is not okay without going through an extraordinarily lengthy and painful process.

Thankfully your fears are unfounded. Unfortunately, our fears of the negative consequences of telecom monopolies are not.

Berent says:

Just Abolish the FCC !


“To make it very clear: we’re gutting the FCC right at the point the agency was starting to actually listen to consumers for arguably the first time in its history…”


So you plainly admit the FCC has been anti-consumer from the getgo. But somehow you can not see the basic problem with the FCC governmental theory & method.

It can not be “reformed” to change its inherent malicious nature. Solution is to abolish it. The FCC is totally unnecessary for any reason.

Of course, the very existence of the FCC is outrageously non-Constitutional– but almost no one today is concerned over such archaic legal considerations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Just Abolish the FCC !

Actually yes!

Abolish agencies that have gone hay wire and create them new. Flush every person in a failed agency and get all new people.

Yes it sucks to have to start over and potentially lose some valuable experience, but sometimes that is the only way to clean out all of the entrenched ‘experience’ that resulted in nothing but corruption!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Just Abolish the FCC !

I read a lot of people whining about the FCC in this way and calling for it to be abolished. You never state the important part, however – what do you replace it with?

It’s clear that the industry will freely abuse consumers and competition if the answer is “nothing”, and the usual cries of “free market” don’t really work with the defacto monopolies that are present here. So, what’s your plan?

Anonymous Coward says:

So, my pie-in-the-sky moment for Friday was this:

I thought when I read this article – ‘Hey, why not?’. So I tweeted to The Donald to keep Mr. Wheeler on at the FCC and that he (Wheeler) has done great things for consumers. If nothing else, positive tweets to the Pres-Elect about someone that has had beneficial effects might at least put a bug in his ear about the pluses of keeping Wheeler around. Added to that, The Donald does have a history of keeping controversial (to some) people in the mix even when others are telling him to get rid of them (Omarosa, anyone?).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Restore local control

That actually has merit, but I don’t agree with the Pro-Trump stance viewpoint. Trump is a corruption as well.

However, there is damn abundant scientific PROVEN merit in being closer to your elected officials, and really just about anything not just politics, when they are actual neighbors. Of course in a lot of cases this is just not feasible because there are a lot of people and land area to serve, but to laugh it off? That’s pretty telling, and not in a good way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Restore local control

Seriously, you can not actually be this naive.

Many neighbors, whether politicians or not, will not be nice while other neighbors might be down right criminal, how the hell do you know? Do you spy on them, hire a private eye or simply stalk them?

But do continue with the silly belief that being a politician somehow removes all that human nature stuff, like greed for example.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Restore local control

You got played for a sucker by Obama and almost by Hillary. It is almost laughable that all of the media is in doomsday mode. They did their best to stop Trump and now that they he won they are keeping up the attack with doomsday scenarios. I have never seen anything like this. He isn’t even in office and we have predictions of the end of the world.

But liberal tears taste delicious.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Restore local control

Funny thing, but I notice you didn’t actually address the point, that for campaigning about ‘draining the swamp’ of lobbyists and DC insiders he’s instead nominated pretty much nothing but people from those two groups.

It’s almost as though you’ve got nothing to counter the point and instead are falling back to a ‘Well… but your tribe would have been just as bad!’

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Restore local control

So yes, I am savoring the taste of liberal tears.

Enjoy them while you can.

Your candidate can’t shut up long enough to get out of his own way. It’s just a matter of time before he shows us exactly how much of a fuck up he is.

I expect there’s going to be a whole bunch of us going "we told you so" long before 4 years rolls by.

JMT says:

Re: Restore local control

“Support Trump and screw the elitist DC mafia.”

You mean replace the elitist DC mafia with the elitist NY mafia? You think that’s progress?

It’s hilarious that middle class shmucks think their interests are going to be championed by a narcisistic billionaire with a grotesque history of failed businesses, ripped off customers and screwed employees.

Anonymous Coward says:

A populist revolt was never happening

“… but also with Trump supporters who signed on believing the Manhattan billionaire was leading a populist revolt.”

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s moves thus far have been to reward cronies, install political and corporate insiders at every important position, and start the machinery of the kleptocracy in motion. The populist rhetoric was simply a means to winning and has now been entirely discarded: Trump never gave a damn about the middle/working class at any point in his life and he certainly hasn’t suddenly, magically started now.

It won’t take long for the economic impact of this to hit. And when it does, the next move in the playbook will not be to take responsibility for it, but to blame minorities, immigrants, women, etc., for “taking our jobs” — never mind that an awful lot of those people are doing horrible jobs that nobody else wants to do, and a substantial number of those people are doing jobs that nobody else is qualified to do.

I figure that by 2018 we’ll be back to 2008 economic conditions. Hope I’m wrong. Doubt I am.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A populist revolt was never happening

The DOW is trading at almost 18,900 points right now. If you’re so sure we’re in for impending doom, why don’t you take out some put options on the market? Clearly you know more than the thousands of people who play the market for a living, and now is your chance to make a fortune with that knowledge.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A populist revolt was never happening

Wall Street is divorced from Main Street. It got the house, the kids, and the dogs. Main Street got the bills.

Don’t believe me? Read this:

So like I said, it’s not a good indicator of what’s happening in the real world where we live.

MadAsASnake (profile) says:

Re: A populist revolt was never happening

Unfortunately, it’s a “post-truth” populist revolt. This idea that facts and truth don’t matter as long as you get results is going to live as long as it’s first disaster. Not sure if that is Brexit or Trump.

The idea that Donald Trump will do anything for the economy except granting large corporations more rent seeking opportunities ought to have been apparent to anyone that showed the slightest interest in his history.

Donald Trump’s entire career has been predicated on inheriting a vast empire and he hasn’t the imagination to conceive of anything else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A populist revolt was never happening

Donald Trump liked the idea of becoming President as he was told “The Buck Stops Here” & all Mr. Trump cares about like all of the other elitist 1%’ers is money & power and how to get more more of it.

Underlings are there to take responsibility for failures whilst the great big man takes all the glory for the good (or in Donald’s case, the Greatest things) things that happen, even when they didn’t happen such as Ford not moving a car plant to Mexico.

Anonymous Coward says:

“To make it very clear: we’re gutting the FCC right at the point the agency was starting to actually listen to consumers for arguably the first time in its history…”

Managing the airwaves as a finite public resource, the Fairness Doctrine, requiring radio and TV stations to act in the public interest or risk losing their broadcast license, etc., were all done for consumers. I’d argue that Wheeler’s FCC finally got back to what the FCC used to be before it became overtly political/partisan 30-some-odd years ago.

bshock says:

Back to the retro-future

Okay, to be clear, President Trump doesn’t give a good goddamn about the FCC, the Internet, or in fact anything besides President Trump.

So into that power vacuum will swarm the gigantic, effective monopolies who have wanted to seize back control of all communication for the last 40 years. Remember their dream of what online networks would be like? You’d be charged by the second for access, you would be given simple screens with simple options, and every time you chose one of those options you would be charged for it again. Basically the Internet would’ve been home shopping where you’re given pages of pictures of things you’re allowed to buy and then you hit the checkboxes to choose what you want.

Oh, it’s not like they’re going to abolish the real Internet or anything. They’ll just make their shop-from-home Internet so much cheaper and faster than anything else you might use.

schism00 says:

we can't give up

We could just cave and let the GOP do whatever it wants, or we could choose to make a whole lot of noise about why we want Net Neutrality and big telecom corporations to take a backseat to consumer needs. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I have a feeling most of us on this thread have a pretty strong opinion about why we need to maintain it. Congress people ultimately have to answer to their constituents and they can drastically affect this.

Curtis (profile) says:


Common carrier net neutrality is not an issue for politics but should always have been realized as fact. Just like 2 + 2 = 4

Neeley Jr. v 5 Communications Commissioners, et. al. (5:14-cv-05135)(14-3447) (Docket)(Docket)

Mr. Eisenach and Mr. Jamison will be and are advised to be cautious or prepare to litigate. Thhe complaint was dismissed although ALL parties did as demanded; – ALMOST EXACTLY AS DEMANDED. Petition

Google Inc. offered five-million early to settle but in one of their last conversations the Appellant’s mother encouraged pursuit of this claim, “till the right thing was done”. Despite FCC affirming “online” is a common carrier; the recognition of wire communications and radio communications merging is not yet done.


The dishonorable prior ruling(s) are counter to law and protect these and other organized wire communications privacy crimes and create the attractive nuisance of even labeled “good Samaritan” indecencies remaining broadcast today after made clearly illegal on 02/26/2015 without authentication. The pervasive immorality on display in an unregulated common carrier explains why this litigation should have been so impacting to human history evaluating the wholly immoral impact of U.S. Courts for all time.


Honorable Timothy L. Brooks asserting only a Prosecuting Attorney may pursue civil damages for communications crimes encouraged the supervisory duties of this Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to protect justice. Justice was not done sua sponte but is plead reconsidered by the Eighth Circuit Panel and then considered en banc and not exclusively by three or nine judges unfamiliar with modern common carrier IP wire communications due to the FCC not wholly recognizing these on February 26, 2015.

Groaker (profile) says:

re: Dog

Sorry to say, but TD has already passed his peak of maturity, and is falling with rapidly increasing jerk (third derivative of position, it is the change is acceleration.) Actually, he is obviously experiencing a rapidly increasing drop (8th derivative,) the mathematical term of jerk probably gets the message across better to those not familiar with calculus.

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