Trump's Plan Is To Gut All FCC Consumer Protection Powers

from the utterly-Comcastic dept

Trump’s telecom advisors have made it abundantly clear the incoming administration intends to gut net neutrality, roll back most consumer broadband protections, and defund and defang the FCC as a broadband consumer watchdog. While deregulation works in some sectors, history makes it abundantly clear that blindly deregulating the broken telecom market only makes the problem worse. Just ask Michael Powell, the former deregulatory-focused FCC boss turned top cable lobbyist, whose blanket deregulatory tenure at the agency helped forge the “Comcast experience” most modern consumers enjoy today.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising then that leaked details on the incoming FCC’s transition plan confirms that gutting of the FCC as consumer watchdog is precisely what Trump’s team has in mind. Of his advisory team can’t just call this spade a spade, given consumers would realize an unchecked Comcast, AT&T, Charter and Verizon spells significant trouble for their wallets… and peace of mind. As such, Trump’s advisors intend to dress up what they have planned as an act of ultra-efficiency and reform:

“That approach would be to restructure FCC bureaus to better reflect the convergence of the digital age as a first step, and, eventually, move functions deemed “duplicative,” like, say, competition and consumer protection, to other agencies, particularly the Federal Trade Commission.

While some have described the plan as one to eliminate the FCC, and certainly many if not most of its functions could be reapportioned, landing team members Jeff Eisenach and Rosyln Layton have argued that what remains would be “a more coherent and streamlined” agency that “would more effectively serve the goals of consumers, competitors, and Congress.”

It’s worth noting that it’s not “some” people that are saying the goal is to neuter the FCC — that’s what Trump’s own advisors and most of the GOP are saying. And sure, the FCC will be more “efficient” in the way that a car stripped and sold off for parts needs less maintenance and fewer oil changes, but the pretense that this has anything to do with helping consumers should be utterly transparent to anybody familiar with America’s pay-to-play legislature and the kind of “dollar per hollar” industry-tied think tankers that currently have Trump’s ear.

In telecom you’ll very often see ISP lobbyists and executives urging that the FCC’s consumer protection duties be offloaded entirely to the FTC. That’s because they know full well the FTC is already under-staffed, under-funded, and ill-equipped to pick up this additional workload, and most consumer issues would be guaranteed to fall through the cracks. The goal isn’t more efficient regulation and better, more streamlined regulators: the goal is no oversight whatsoever of some of the least competitive companies in America and one of the most loathed industries in America. All else is pretense.

Of course we could just ask real consumer advocates like Public Knowledge lawyer Harold Feld. Feld has spent the lion’s share of his life defending consumers from companies like Comcast, and tells Ars Technica that Trump’s plan is effectively an all out war on telecom consumer protections:

“Harold Feld, senior VP of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, called this plan “a declaration of war on the most basic principles of universal service, consumer protection, competition, and public safety that have been the bipartisan core of the Communications Act for the last 80+ years.” Feld argued that this proposal would “poison the well for any serious effort to update the Communications Act.” Feld also worries about the impact on rural areas, which are given special protections in the Communications Act, he told Ars today.

Feld said that the FCC itself has “considerable latitude” to limit its own enforcement actions “and to use rulemakings and forbearances to strip itself of authority,” but it still has to meet the requirements of the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Moreover, the proposal to shift FCC competition and consumer protection authority to agencies such as the FTC would require the writing of extremely complicated legislation in Congress, he said.”

But Congressional legislation is just what the GOP is planning. The GOP has made it repeatedly clear they intend to table a Communications Act rewrite this year that further erodes regulatory authority over the nation’s largest cable TV and broadband providers. It’s very likely this new bill will not only severely curtail the FCC, but will roll back the agency’s Title II reclassification of ISPs — as well as net neutrality and new broadband privacy rules. All under the pretense of jobs, broadband expansion, and protecting net neutrality.

Of course the way things are going, dismantling the only government agency that has dared stand up to Comcast is going to be portrayed as some kind of “populist” reform, resulting in countless millions cheering against their own best interests as their rights burn down around them. But as consumer TV and broadband bills skyrocket, net neutrality is gutted, consumer privacy concerns get thrown in the toilet, and unchecked industry duopolists truly begin to run amok — misdirection and bullshit will only go so far in preventing consumers from realizing precisely who’ll be to blame.

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Comments on “Trump's Plan Is To Gut All FCC Consumer Protection Powers”

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DannyB (profile) says:

Re: T Minus 2 Days ...

In case you haven’t heard, after the coronation, everything is going to be magical rainbows and unicorns! America will be great again. Whatever that means.

Everyone will be happy and healthy. ACA will be repealed, but replaced with some magical thing that will make everyone insured with similar benefits as the ACA but without whatever evil substance makes the ACA so bad.

America will be able to insult its way to success. And intimidate other countries into building factories in America and send us all their jobs — as long as the workers have the necessary prescribed skin color.

Hillary will be in jail which will somehow magically improve everyone’s life!

As for economic opportunities, just watch to see how well the president’s businesses do after using the powers of office to negotiate favorable deals with other nations, even at the expense of the American people.

Life will be beautiful!

Anonymous Coward says:

“Trump’s Plan Is To Gut All FCC Consumer Protection Powers”

Libertarians rejoice! You now get to play more for the same service. Pay thousands more in bogus fees. ISPs will be able to legally spy on you and sell that information to any 3rd party. You’ll be charged twice for the same service thanks to bandwidth caps and “reprioritization” of services like Netflix. Telecoms and their ilk will return to using underhanded tactics to push people off POTS and onto less regulated services that are proven unreliable in emergencies.

Yes, I say rejoice ye libertarians! For you’re getting exactly what you asked for! OH… wait… you forgot that these companies had sweetheart deals with local and state governments that essentially makes them local monopolies and the FCC was the only thing keeping them from being total ass hats? I’m sorry.

DannyB (profile) says:

Be careful what you wish for

Dear Telecom industry,

Be careful what you wish for.

Maybe you will get everything you dream of after the coronation in a few days.

Like all abusive monopolies, you will soon overreach. To the point that some future administration will do something tantamount to the AT&T breakup.

Choose wisely just how much you want to screw consumers.

Here’s an idea! How about unbundling all content from connectivity. Make your connectivity be the biggest, fastest, bestest dumb pipes there ever was. Make America’s internet service great again. At least get it up into the top 20 of the world. Set your prices to cover the cost of building out and maintaining your network and your profit. Be competitive. Just sell great service at great prices. No need for disgusting back room deals with content providers to favor certain content as “zero-rated”.

As for content, make great content. Make that content available to everyone on all networks without discrimination.

As for building a wall, how about let’s not build a wall. Walled gardens are really just prison camps.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Man bites dog

“…as a first step, and, eventually, move functions deemed “duplicative,” like, say, competition and consumer protection, to other agencies, particularly the Federal Trade Commission. “

Wouldn’t it be an interesting turn of events if the FTC actually did their job and went after the telecom industry for the lack of competition and their egregious manipulation to prevent competition? Not that I think it will happen, but it would be interesting.

Anonymous Coward says:

kinda funny...

“While deregulation works in some sectors, history makes it abundantly clear that blindly deregulating the broken telecom market only makes the problem worse.”

Seems to work BOTH ways! The only regulation I have noticed happening has always been the blind version! Your weapons have now been turned against you! How does it feel?


slowgreenturtle (profile) says:


Does this mean the politicians will be removing their own ability to make “exclusive” deals with Internet providers which restrict competition? I’m all for gutting the FCC, but if their “help” consists of continuing to prevent competition in the form of municipal monopolies, what is the point? I would like a free market, but free market means the politicians stay out of both ends of the market.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Monopoly

That would just be too awesome…

So therefore there is not a snowballs chance in hell it will happen. Here is the definition of the Terms “Regulation” and “De-Regulation” when you see them being used in the politosphere.

“Regulation” – The process by where Government and Business collude to extort citizens, but writing the regulations in such a way as to make citizens think it is good.

“De-Regulation” – The process by where Government and Business collude to relax regulations that businesses regret having traded off for other “regulations”.

When a citizen calls for regulation, the actually want genuine and decently written law, but when the politician hears those calls for regulation, they quickly use the fuss to fuck us citizens over every time, and the citizen usually does not see it coming. Next year, they vote back in the business whore because, sometimes, those politicians are kind enough to give a reach-a-round or knocks a few crumbs off the banquet table!

Anonymous Coward says:

“agency that “would more effectively serve the goals of consumers, competitors, and Congress.”

With the right spin, you could consider this part to be true.

Serve the goals of:

Means ISPs, who are happy to consume customers’ money without providing anything in return.

Incumbent ISPs, who compete with each other to buy off politicians to their cause, which leads to

Who’ve shown that their sole concern is getting more payoffs from ISPs instead of protecting the citizens they swore a crossed-fingers oath to serve.

Anonymous Coward says:

Solution to the AT&T and Comcasts

A solution is simple. Stop paying them. Cancel service. In almost every market there is at least some other choice. Frequently it’s microwave interent and no TV, but hey, I’ve seen TV. I am glad to give it up. Sports? I can’t think of anything more fitting than to stop paying for sports along with television. Way too expensive.

So, three or four months after as few as 20% do this, telecoms will be bankrupt. End of problem.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Solution to the AT&T and Comcasts

In almost every market there is at least some other choice.


My options for broadband internet are "Cox" and "none". As a web developer, it’s pretty fucking hard to make a living if I choose the latter.

Here are a few articles about broadband choice (or, more to the point, lack thereof) in the US:

These sources are a couple of years old, but I don’t think you’ll find that competition has improved much since they were written.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Solution to the AT&T and Comcasts

We should do the same thing for medicines, too. Just quit taking them! All of them! It might take a while, but it will work. After a while the drug companies will be so eager to get rid of their drugs that they will pay you to take them! Just like Mexico is going to pay for that wall.

Not a problem says:

Those who always think Government is the answer

Sad to see so many of our tech community who seem to think the FCC is some sort of magical entity that was going to make free internet and other wonderful things happen for them. Get over it !! The FCC is a mistake !! Big government is a mistake !! Government is THE most destructive power anywhere !!! Less of it is fine and will work out because Comcast, ATT, and all the rest CANNOT make you buy their service and if you don’t they hurt. And if they continue then some other technology will come in to fill the void they create by their actions. It might be wireless services, it might be high altitude repeater stations…. Who knows, but something will satisfy the need no matter what else the Telcomms do !! So stop looking to government to save you because the price of that saving is way too high !!

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Those who always think Government is the answer

Well, the Government did create the Internet. And the roads. And it’s the Government’s job to ensure the air and water stay clean. And it was the Government that got rid of lead in gasoline. And it was the Government that had to legislate Obamacare, to try to raise the level of US healthcare to something approaching the rest of the developed world.

Which your Republicans seem very unhappy about, for some reason…

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Those who always think Government is the answer

It’s precisely the lack of the Government that brought the US into the tail of the broadband speeds in the ‘developed’ nations world. I use developed very loosely nowadays but still, you got my point.

“and all the rest CANNOT make you buy their service”

Oh they can’t? What if the option is either NO internet connection or the other duopolist that do exactly the same? Go without? Heck yeah, Middle Ages to the US! Or not.

Wither you are naive or you are a good comedian. I assumed the latter and gave you a funny vote!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Those who always think Government is the answer

“It’s precisely the lack of the Government that brought the US into the tail of the broadband speeds in the ‘developed’ nations world. I use developed very loosely nowadays but still, you got my point.”

I’d more say it has been the result of poor government. It has been the government itself that has protected the monopolists and duopolists from competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hahaha – yeah, you are so right.

and it is the consumer who is responsible for all things that go bad everywhere because those in positions of power and influence are too busy doing good work elsewhere and they simply do not have the time to help people who lack the resources to adequately defend themselves.

My_Name_Here says:

Government agencies are generally suppose to be there to make sure that the laws that apply are followed. The FCC is no different. They are given a mandate in no small part by the Communications Act and other laws, and they are there to assure that the laws passed by congress are followed.

For more time than most care to remember, the FCC has had mission creep. The most recent group of commissioners have been perhaps the worst in this regard, taking it upon themselves to write the rules rather than just applying them. Changes such as Net Neutrality and Title II classification is something that really should have been done at the legislative level, and not at the administration level. Both of those steps, while perhaps good, are significant changes in both regulation and business models.

Thr FCC should have worked with congress to craft legislation that would have made this the law of the land, and not just a rule document from the commission. Without being codified in law, the entire thing can be reversed within minutes, or can easily be overridden by congress stating in law that it’s not the FCC’s position to make such a choice. This is what is likely to happen.

If the lack of net neutrality creates issues for consumers, then it’s the FTC that should be looking into it and not the regulator of the airwaves. It’s a business question and not a broadcasting issue.

Jesse says:

AOL is coming back!

This is how AOL will make their comeback and the swamp boys will make it happen. We will get our memberberries going and we won’t mind that the internet is just even more of a shitty pay for pay cluster fuck than it is today. I wonder how the FTC will handle spectrum auctions and amateur radio license issuance and complaints. But these things really don’t matter to the swap boys. The spectrum is already promised to our friends at ATT and Verizon. T-Mobile if they put it in the right hole. They could care less about us radio nerd, four hundred pound computer hacking consumers.

What is sad is that you would have to be blind or very ignorant to the current and sad state of broadband in this country to believe that this will do good and not just roll to serve the corporate interests of the most powerful telecom companies on the planet. But then again if you “only check email and it’s good enough for me” then you probably have no idea of what a good connection works like or what you are missing because you don’t use the network as a business tool or for gaming.

Just remember that they will kill everyone on your buddy list if you violate their TOS.

Get 1000 Free Hours!

Tell em sent ya. 😉

Zeke4544 says:

Right, "consumer protection" -- as if

Not sure what the time limit for “necro’ing” a thread is, but here goes….

What “consumer protections”? The FCC is worse than worthless, it’s become a conduit for globalist elitists and free-speech opponents to push their agenda.

Another pretentious entity pushing excessive bureaucratic involvement.

“Consumer protections.” Right. How friggin stupid can you get? How friggin stupid do you think your average workaday Joe is? He can add 9 and 5 and come up with the square root of 196.

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