Trump Telecom Advisor Doesn't Think Broadband Monopolies Are Real, Wants To Dismantle The FCC
from the Comcastic dept
We just got done noting how despite all the hype surrounding Google Fiber and similar initiatives, the cable industry’s monopoly over broadband service is growing larger than ever. Incumbent telcos don’t want to upgrade their DSL customers across huge portions of their networks, effectively giving cable broadband less competition than ever. At the same time, we’ve noted how Trump’s telecom transition team is thus far comprised of telecom sector cronies that not only can’t admit the broadband market isn’t competitive, but are eager to demolish all regulatory oversight of these anti-competitive carriers.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of insight to see the problem with that scenario, yet here we are — once again — having this conversation anyway. Apparently, it’s somehow hard to understand that giving incumbent ISPs control of the very agency tasked with regulating them doesn’t end well for consumers, small businesses, or innovative new startups.
Jeffrey Eisenach, Trump’s FCC transition team leader, ISP-funded “think tanker” and a candidate for the top FCC spot, thinks net neutrality and the FCC need dismantling. Former Sprint lobbyist Mark Jamison, also tasked with leading Trump’s telecom team, also thinks net neutrality rules should be walked back and the FCC defanged. Jamison apparently doesn’t believe telecom monopolies are real and thinks the FCC serves no purpose. In an October blog post, Jamison makes his thoughts clear:
“Most of the original motivations for having an FCC have gone away. Telecommunications network providers and ISPs are rarely, if ever, monopolies. If there are instances where there are monopolies, it would seem overkill to have an entire federal agency dedicated to ex ante regulation of their services. A well-functioning Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in conjunction with state authorities, can handle consumer protection and anticompetitive conduct issues.”
Again, so we’re clear, that’s a lobbyist tasked with deciding the future of the FCC declaring that telecom monopolies not only aren’t real, but also that the FCC technically shouldn’t exist. Most of our readers are well aware of the fact that most broadband markets suffer from a duopoly logjam, where their choices are overpriced cable broadband service, or DSL services that offer circa 2003 speeds and 2016 prices. And again, as we noted recently, cable’s monopoly is only growing as companies like AT&T and Verizon give up on fixed line broadband and shift their attention to higher-growth advertising and content markets.
To deny these realities borders on outright delusion. But time and time again, we’ve seen how incumbent ISPs (and the loyal sycophants they use to bend government to their will) are utterly incapable of even admitting the U.S. broadband market isn’t competitive. If you can’t admit this lack of competition, you’re certainly not going to be able to understand the steps necessary to fixing it. Gutting most regulatory oversight, demolishing net neutrality, and dismantling the FCC’s new privacy rules won’t somehow magically result in telecom utopia.
This is a line of fantasy the incumbent ISPs (and their various, well-funded policy tendrils) have been mainlining into the public discourse for the better part of the last twenty years despite a parade of evidence to the contrary. A major reason Comcast and AT&T are abysmal companies isn’t because the FCC tries to protect consumers. It’s because gentlemen just like Eisenach and Jamison spent the lion’s share of the last twenty years denying there’s a problem while actively trying to prevent the agency from doing its job. They then clap and dance like school children when the dysfunction they built by hand suddenly manifests.
None of this is to say the FCC doesn’t do stupid things, shouldn’t and couldn’t be reformed, or in many instances pared back. And Jamison’s certainly correct that partisan patty cake is a problem at the agency that can and does result in inconsistent progress (even though partisan infighting is often intentionally used by companies to sow division on non-partisan issues like net neutrality). But reform is a far cry from what Jamison is proposing. What Jamison wants is to dismantle the FCC completely and shovel any outstanding responsibilities to the states:
“What would we do without an FCC? Any legitimate universal service concerns could be handled by others: States can subsidize network access as they see fit, the Department of Health and Human Services can incorporate telecommunications and internet into its assistance to low-income households, and the FTC and states can handle consumer protection and ex post regulation.”
Right, but if you know anything about the telecom market at all, you know that state legislatures are beholden to incumbent broadband providers to an even more comic degree. Incumbent ISPs, with the help of groups like ALEC and lobbyists like Jamison, quite literally write state telecom law. That’s why twenty states have passed laws, written by ISP lawyers, hamstringing their citizens’ ability to build their own networks or strike public/private partnerships in case of market failure. This corruption is why AT&T is able to try and sneak competition-killing measures into unrelated traffic laws. That’s why states like West Virginia are an absolute telecom shit show dominated by broken monopolies Jamison pretends don’t exist.
Many Trump supporters will try to point out that current FCC boss Tom Wheeler was a former wireless and cable lobbyist we all expected nothing from, but were pleasantly surprised by. But Wheeler was an enigma, and he isn’t like Jamison or Eisenach. His lobbying for the wireless and cable sectors occurred when both industries were pesky upstarts. His documented positions were also vastly less extreme. He wasn’t stumbling about proclaiming that the agency he was about to be employed by shouldn’t exist, or denying fundamental realities like the existence of telecom monopolies. And Jamison and Eisenach are on record criticizing nearly all of Wheeler’s policies, especially net neutrality.
Consumers tired of awful broadband should be bored to tears by the parade of ISP lobbyists, think tankers, lobbyists, consultants and other mouthpieces who endlessly insist government telecom oversight never works — then set about spending millions of dollars and decades to ensure it can’t. The FCC, under both parties, certainly has a long history of dysfunction that needs fixing. But anybody that actually thinks that dismantling regulatory oversight of the nation’s broken broadband duopoly is a panacea has been fed a line of stale bullshit. When you put the foxes in charge of the hen house you don’t get better eggs — you get a bloodbath and a call to Comcast customer service. Why exactly is this such a difficult lesson for us to learn?