Tom Wheeler: Trump, GOP Plan To 'Modernize' The FCC A 'Fraud'

from the in-Comcast-we-trust dept

So we’ve noted a few times how former FCC boss Tom Wheeler surprised many of us (myself included) simply for basing his telecom policy decisions on actual facts. That doesn’t sound like much, but for more than fifteen years, both parties had stocked the agency with a rotating crop of either sector apologists like Michael Powell (now the cable industry’s top lobbyist) — utterly incapable of even admitting the broadband industry had competition problems — or wishy-washy folks like Julius Genachowski, who basically just told everybody what they wanted to hear, and just hoped things worked out for the best.

Wheeler wound up being a notably different animal for the FCC. He based many of his policy decisions on real-world data collected from actual customers (shocking!), repeatedly highlighted the lack of real broadband competition in many markets (blasphemy!), and, as evident on his shift toward Title II reclassification and net neutrality, actually changed his mind when confronted with evidence that challenged his world view (what insolence!).

Now that Wheeler’s back in the private sector, he’s unshackled himself somewhat, last week providing an interesting interview with Harvard Law Professor Susan Crawford. In it, Wheeler takes particular aim at Trump’s new FCC pick Ajit Pai, noting the new FCC boss (who repeatedly complained that Wheeler left him out of key policy decisions) refused to even meet with him during the last year. Wheeler also chimes in on the subject of net neutrality, municipal broadband, and how ISPs like Comcast and AT&T have an almost nauseating amount of influence over state legislatures.

But the most important part has to do with Wheeler’s take on the Trump administration’s increasingly obvious plan to defund and defang the FCC as broadband watchdog. Because the industry and our new FCC boss lack the courage to just come out and say this, telecom sector lobbyists (and the various PR flacks, consultants, think tankers, and politicians paid to love them) have concocted a new narrative in which they claim they’re simply “streamlining” or “modernizing” government by eliminating the FCC from the equation, and dumping all oversight of megacarriers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon into the lap of the FTC.

Wheeler, however, was quick to point out the real goal of such a shift:

In the Trump administration, people are talking about stripping regulatory power from the FCC, and essentially taking the agency apart (including moving jurisdiction over internet access to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC]). ?Modernizing? the FCC is the lingo being used. What?s your thought about that?

It?s a fraud. The FTC doesn?t have rule-making authority. They?ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want [telecom issues] to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along.

So it doesn?t surprise me that the Trump transition team???who were with the American Enterprise Institute and basically longtime supporters of this concept???comes in and says, ?Oh, we oughta do away with this.? It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that?s going on in the economy, and can only deal with unfair or deceptive practices.

Again, so it’s clear, broadband ISPs want all oversight shifted to the FTC because they know the underfunded and overworked agency won’t have the ability to actually enforce the rules currently on the books, much less craft new ones should they become necessary. With companies like Comcast facing less organic broadband market pressure than ever, less federal regulatory oversight than ever, and the ability to literally write state protectionist laws keeping your town and city from having any say over this dysfunction, you’ve got a disaster brewing for consumers and numerous business sectors alike.

To be clear, deregulation does help some industries — especially those that naturally enjoy healthy competition. But with the amount of control large ISPs have over state legislatures, and the lack of competition in the last mile, the telecom sector is far from a free market. Undaunted by historical evidence of the folly of blind telecom deregulation, ISPs have long argued that if you just leave the industry completely alone, gigabit connections will miraculously sprout from sidewalk cracks and we’ll all be living in a telecom utopia in no time. History has proven repeatedly this antiquated belief system is pure folly.

Just when it seemed like we were finally putting this dated fantasy in the rear-view mirror, in comes a brand new plan to effectively neuter the only regulatory agency to stand up to AT&T and Comcast in the last decade. Again, it will go something like this: first Pai and the new FCC will simply refuse to enforce the rules already on the books (net neutrality). From there, you can expect Comcast, AT&T and Verizon’s Congressional allies to push for a new Communications Act rewrite that rolls back all of Wheeler’s policy proposals and fits the FCC with a shiny new collar and chain.

Said Act will breathlessly profess to create jobs, increase broadband deployment, close the digital divide and finally solve net neutrality, but will do nothing of the sort. What it will actually do is contain ample loopholes ensuring that the FCC can never again actually hold massive broadband and media empires accountable to the public by cutting the agency off at the knees, in part by rolling back Wheeler’s Title II classification, but also by shoveling consumer protection off to an FTC whose purview will be similarly constrained over the coming months and years.

The end result of this “modernization”? Less oversight than ever for industry giants AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Charter. Given these companies’ growing size, long and undeniable track record of anti-competitive behavior and outright fraud, what could possibly go wrong?

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Comments on “Tom Wheeler: Trump, GOP Plan To 'Modernize' The FCC A 'Fraud'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

hey, a fraud calling others are fraud.

Yes, I certainly think more of Wheeler than I do the others, but the new rules and things like zero rating that came along with those new rules made me pretty suspicious.

I would still rather see the FCC completely destroyed.

I have just exactly no doubt that Ajit Pai will waste little breath making sure all of the regulator forces you guys want in government will be put to absolutely the wrong use.

Remember… when you give someone power, make sure you do it through the lens of “that power making it into the hands of your enemies” tomorrow if not today.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I would still rather see the FCC completely destroyed.

And replaced with what exactly?

While the current FCC is so blatantly in favor of the very companies they’re supposed to be keeping in check that you could certainly argue that the public would be better off only being screwed by the companies rather than by the companies and the FCC, it’s pretty clear that just letting the companies do whatever they want is a Bad Idea.

Something needs to be in place to keep them in check and act as a balance against the rampant, short-sighted greed that litters their history, and if you get rid of the agency theoretically tasked with doing that(or staff it with spineless lapdogs in the case of it’s current form) what exactly do you plan to replace it with?

What rules or (horror of horrors) regulations do you put in place to keep the greed at a sane level, and who do you task with enforcing those limits?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“And replaced with what exactly?”

Create another FCC from the ground up, maybe just in the next administration. The destruction of the FCC has other benefits besides just shaking off a bunch of old history. Sure, with a person like Trump at the helm we are not going to be getting any positives from an existing one anyways so why not just make an example of them instead? I have no illusion that this is really going to happen but I can dream.

“Something needs to be in place to keep them in check and act as a balance against the rampant, short-sighted greed that litters their history, and if you get rid of the agency theoretically tasked with doing that(or staff it with spineless lapdogs in the case of it’s current form) what exactly do you plan to replace it with?”

I agree, that something needs to be there to counter the negative aspects of a free market, but since we already do not “require” the government to enforce already existing anti-trust and monopoly laws… well just what exactly CAN we accomplish? We are not enforcing laws already there? What will any new ones do? They won’t be enforced any more than the current one or someone will lawyer up or buy political favor.

“What rules or (horror of horrors) regulations do you put in place to keep the greed at a sane level, and who do you task with enforcing those limits?”

Yea, I know… the FTC does not exist right? Or at least, they might as well not bother since they still do nothing against the obvious lies of the telecom industry. How long does this have to keep happening? It’s like the Emperors New Clothes every damn time! It’s fucking nauseating!

I am not saying the complete destruction of the FCC is the ONLY solution or even the best one, but I think its a damn good one all thing considered. It’s good to make examples every once in a while. The “You guys have done such a shit job we are going to just get rid of you” is a stain a department will not want on their names so others will take notice, and any follow up agencies will definitely be keeping it in mind next time. Of course with the way politics go…

So yea, since the FCC is a problem… how does the logic of keeping that problem AND the problem of the greedy telecom, work out? Why have two problems… lets get rid of one and start working on the other from a fresh perspective? Many of the monopolies they have now were granted, blessed, and/or propped up by the FCC itself. Looks like the fox is guarding the hen house to me!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Well… kinda like you. A waste… why bother with trying to fix you when instead it is better and likely easier to just replace you?

When a person becomes so resistant to change or improvement and can only serve as a corruption then you are left with few other options. Think about it for a minute. If you spend enough time fighting against a solution, you may be part of the problem.

While I did appreciate Wheeler’s disposition, a shocking turn about for “The Dingo” but damn if his new rules were not just as bad as the old rules. What was the point? Sure there is a bit of improvement, but only while someone like him or better was in power. Oh look, a change of guard has now been had? O shit… those new rules just became… well POINTLESS!!!

All of that wasted effort was just spectacular… amiright?

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Well the point was Net Neutrality.
“Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. The term was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003, as an extension of the longstanding concept of a common carrier, which was used to describe the role of telephone systems”

But the new guy will tear that down.
So yea, it’s a waste, but nothing as much as building up from scratch the same entity.

The waste of space between your ears has created a vacuum. NASA is interested.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You still don’t get it do you?

It has to come from Congress, not the agency. When an agency does it… it is pointless and can be easily defeated next time around when power changes hands. For it to be NOT pointless it needs to be done by congress, so that someone like Trump or Ajit can really fuck it up bad. In fact, Congress can still STOP trump from fucking it up, but no… we all sit here and bitch at Trump, because that is just easier for you. You want a change? Do what I do. Write your congress critter and bitch at them, and refuse to vote in a president from either party because it is more pointless than serving as a fully inform juror instead, where you CAN make a difference and save a person from the bludgeon of government tyranny!

O wait… I am talking to you again. More wasted keystrokes. Hopefully someone else reading this will understand it a bit more.

Go ahead, keep pining for agency based regulation… it is working so fucking well!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes I know… troll = someone you disagree with.

Still have not figured out using the wrong words ultimately gets you no where yet? Trump still got elected, and no one cared that they called him a racist, a xenophobe, islamophobic, misogynist or what ever other favorite hate term you have on tap.

To continually cheapen a word relegates it to meaningless. Perhaps you are the troll you seek in others with a differing opinion?

They have now been used so much I (and many others) just treat them as non substantive ad hominem attacks… no different than just going Godwin on someone.

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

What’s to hate, Trump is enriching his family (Kellyanne Conway: ‘Go buy Ivanka’s stuff’/“My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” from POTUS account)

Yea nothing corrupt there. OH LOOK OVER THERE! Another Bowling Green Massacre!


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I am pretty certain you are not aware of the number of voices in my head.

In fact, We all are certain you don’t have any idea of how many of us there are in my attic.

So stop being obtuse, ad hominem attacks to get a rise out of me only serves to encourage me to warn you against being a stupid name caller. By all means, be hateful if you like… just put some meat on your discourse!

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Trump still got elected, and no one cared that they called him a racist, a xenophobe, islamophobic, misogynist or what ever other favorite hate term you have on tap."

Well, actually, they did. Trump lost the popular vote, but still won the Electoral College, an institution that takes the concept of representative too far IMHO.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Except, it did just exactly what it was intended to do. You should try reading a little history.

And if you think it went too far, lets go full democracy… America will be ripped to shreds so fast you may not even be alive long enough to realize your actual mistake.

Everyone keeps wishing for a King… it will only get us a divided nation, to many many of you don’t see this. The popular vote will only bring us the problems George Washington wrote about in his farewell address.

Obama was a good sign of it and Trump is a certain sign of it.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Your assumption that I have not read history makes you the ass.

I have, and based upon that reading, stated an opinion about the Electoral College. At one point in the history of the US (at the beginning) it made some sense, poor communication systems, lack of education, distributed populace, etc. Those things are no longer the issue they once were. Now a greater problem is the existence of political parties (and the manipulation of the Electoral College process exerted by them) an idea that was debated back then, and unfortunately allowed. There are others, such as money in politics for example.

You also fail in assuming that my correction would be to go full democracy. Maybe you should do some reading. There are many possibilities between what we have now and a full democracy (aka mob rule), so my realization has already taken place, but your little mind does not allow anyone else the possibility.

And you’re still wrong about no one caring about Trump’s being an asshole.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

yea, um… no. You may have read some history, but you sure did get the short end of the stick. Sure there are some communication elements that were involved but they are just undertones. There is a reason that the electoral college was “specifically” designed to allow the defeat of the popular vote.

“You also fail in assuming that my correction would be to go full democracy.”

Well I can only say I am happy to hear that!

“There are many possibilities between what we have now and a full democracy (aka mob rule), so my realization has already taken place, but your little mind does not allow anyone else the possibility.”

The possibilities are irrelevant. It is a pointless exercise in futility to explore them. We must visit the issue within the context of the laws we do have, not those of our desires or imaginations. The complaints about a president losing the popular vote is a telling sign of ignorance, hence my claim of you having failed to read a sufficient amount of history to understand.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

You neither know what I have or have not read, nor what I have or have not considered. Yet you keep telling me what I think. Just WOW.

My comment was about your assertion that nobody cared. People did care, the popular vote tells us so. That Trump is still President is a function of the Electoral College. Something I believe is outdated, and I stated that opinion. You made all the assumptions about everything else. A lot of assumptions from very little comment. They are all in your head.

Failure to consider possibilities means we are stuck with what we have. The fact of ongoing Amendments to the Constitution tells me that we are not in fact stuck with what we have, and something I am not ready to concede. That whatever corrections made make things better rather than worse is worth some intelligent discussion. Discussion where others opinions are not dismissed out of hand, but rather with logic. Something you have difficulty with, along with your imposing motives on others that don’t actually exist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

“You neither know what I have or have not read, nor what I have or have not considered. Yet you keep telling me what I think. Just WOW.”

No, I telling you that you are wrong, and you commons serve more as evidence that you did not read history instead of having read history. The reason for the way the EC was created is well documented. You are either intentionally misleading or you did not read.

“My comment was about your assertion that nobody cared. People did care, the popular vote tells us so.”

Wow, I am the one guilty of knowing what people are thinking? You cannot possible know that the popular vote was over the diatribe labels or if people just did not like trump for other reasons. I did not vote for Trump and none of those bullshit labels affected my decision at all. If they did affect my decision it would in all actually tilted me in favor of Trump just to piss you idiots off even more. Try not letting your petty emotions rules you so damn much.

Trump was a shit choice, but so was Hillary, I hardly blame anyone voting for either to avoid the other except those that hated trump for his shit mouth instead of just evaluating the policies he planned to bring. Those guys deserve every inch of Trump right up their asses.

On your final paragraph. I really don’t know where to begin. I am not sure what you are implying.

Are you advancing the fool notion that making the president into a popular vote as some sort of improvement? You are literally asking for more trumps and obamas each with more advancing and divisive policies after the next that way.

this is why I damn skeptical of your “supposed” historical credentials.

George Washington warned against this, and we are sleeping on his extensive wisdom.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Your failure to read and comprehend makes your argument about whether anyone else read or comprehends history, or what their statements may or may not mean, preclude anyone else from taking anything you say seriously.

You may think I am wrong, and it is OK for you to think so, but telling me I am wrong about an opinion means your not listening, because your little brain is telling you only you are right. So, I am no longer listening to your specious arguments. And, I am right in doing so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No, you have only washed them out, and you cannot understand why. There is a reason women are not taken seriously or have to endure a lot of skepticism when they accuse men of rape. You can go to youtube and hear women claim rape just by a man ogling them.

For you and many others anything you don’t like is call for labeling it with a hate term. You are self destructing, I am trying to tell you to stop because that foolishness is helping to build the police state.

I liked it much better when you guys were able to have some objectivity… now… you are so wound up that you have no sense! Those hate terms that you labeled Trump with… well they only drove people with common sense AWAY. I wouldn’t want to be associated with hateful people with hateful diarrhea of the mouth calling someone else hateful.

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Like pussy grabber?

“I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married. And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look”

“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You completely missed the point, so I grade you as F. I am directly telling you that since you folks have continually over used the terms… this means “before Trump they were overused” they had little to no effect when you used them on Trump… Hell they even some negative impact even when use them now.

See where this is going Champ? no wait… you still don’t get it. Overusing the terms makes them unusable when it actually does come time to use them.

I have no problem believing that Trump might be a misogynist… I just telling you that you have worn it out so much now, it means little. Want to be relegated to meaningless? Just keep it up, hopefully now you will get the point, but I will not be holding my breath.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

It’s your loss, I did not vote for Trump, but I do laugh at that fact that all you haters now have to deal with him.

It’s like karmic justice in my onion. Assholes having to deal with an asshole. In many ways your worst nightmare is a Trump in power, but you so deserve it and you don’t even realize why.

Welp, I guess I can at least go get some popcorn and enjoy the show… while being accused to being a thin skinned trump troll, I have been called worse… an Obama fan.

I would much prefer someone else in the Office, but with the multitude of you clowns around helping to make sure only the most fucked up people will risk a run for president… well there you have it.

Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The reason people call you troll is because you come back everytime with the same flawed logic and downright fallacies that were pointed out over and over again. And each time it’s denounced, your reaction is to repeat your flawed arguments, as if repetition would turn them valid somehow, or obnoxiously tell others that they are wrong because you’re so “obviously” right.

Most of us here enjoy proper debate. At least when it’s based on logic and proof, not on faith.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Power is power, legislation is legislation and enforcement is the name of the game…

As much as your crosshair may be on a specific agency and its enforcement, the controversy from republican side was a question of legislation. As much as FCC may have overreached its role, the market it was regulating was so horribly swamped by politics, that I doubt any kind of regulation of the ISPs could make it worse.

As much as you may hate FCC, a rebuilding would still require at least a modicum of congressional legislation to enforce and since congress is dysfunctional beyond words, the core beind an improvement has a snowballs chance in hell as long as the republicans refuse to face facts and the democrats are more interested in pushing redistributive efforts over market function.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think you hit the nail right on the head, and so many others just don’t understand that. I do, I just advocate a different approach to dealing with it because just like you said.

Congress is dysfunctional beyond words. And “the people” are busy looking for their king to notice and fix it.

I do not see either side as having a moral or non-corrupt agenda here either. Once a sane person does approach they will likely be pinched out by both sides… cause if you cannot be on YOUR side… then they are nothing other than an enemy… right?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It’s not like the lack of broadband competition is a Federally mandated monopoly, like say copyright. Those monopolies are state supported via the free marketplace of vote buying by the Corporations. While the nature of the big broadband companies is interstate (opening them up to FTC interaction) there are enough bought and paid for intrastate rules of similar nature that the same rules may apply across state lines.

Besides, the FTC has always had the power to control the broadband industries failure to have competition, yet they never have. What makes anyone think they will do so now? Maybe that is the point of the Administrations move, they know that nothing will happen, but they ‘did’ something about it.

While we are at it, 2 or 3 is not real competition, like we keep hearing when big telecoms ingest other big telecoms. 5 or 10 or 15 seems more like competition. But, Wall Street likes that continual growth thingy, and once one competitor has merged/purchase/destroyed all other competitors in one industry, they have no choice but to expand into other industries, or Wall Street will hurt them.

Mel says:

It's not like we really need the Internet

Techdirt needs the Internet, but without the Internet, we won’t need Techdirt as much.
When the Internet becomes just another top-down broadcast medium, like Cable TV, and is just as expensive and irrelevant as Cable TV, then we can cut the Internet cord just like we cut the TV cable.
$70 a month just to get in the door at Amazon, even before I buy anything? Too much.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's not like we really need the Internet

I find it funny when people talk about the internet like it is just crime, social media, cat pictures, web shopping, and evil people. By this I don’t mean that you by yourself fit all those categories.
I see the internet a whole different way. Millions of people spend time and effort, writing about what they love, to help anyone who care to look. I am working in and studying IT and if I can’t find what I am looking for, then I can just ask the whole world… someone will answer without getting anything in return other than “Hey thanks buddy, that worked perfectly”.
The internet is a fountain of free knowledge and people come together across the whole world to contribute despite whatever strife in the physical world.
I understand most cultures better with the internet than I ever could without (except maybe moving there) and I am a better, more tolerant person because of it.
Prices and speeds in my country are not nearly as bad as in the US, but if I were to put a value on the internet (not for the ISP’s… they just provide the roads) it would be much higher than $70.

Anonymous Coward says:

The FCCs under Wheeler created the problem. They tried to put in place regulatuon after regulation without dealing with Congress. Instead of getting net neutrality defined in law they tried to do it only by rules.

Rules can be changed easily. Aji is doing just that

Lack of competition? That is a state level issue, and the FTC could look into things if needed. The FCC can huff and ouff, but they cannot force the states to change their laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

The states that take a contrary position here are going to win... BIG.

A large percentage of the people who are angry, are industry people. The situation here, is you have some oligarchs commanding unethical practices from employees in monopoly markets.

Those employees have to relocate, typically out of state, to work for competitors. So the free market isn’t just failing from the standpoint from a product availability. The LABOR market is being constrained by these private titles of nobility as well. And that is really what they are.

The states are granting the right of one party to interfere with the civil rights of another, and facilitating market constraints that prevent the offended parties from lawfully seeking employment from more ethical companies.

It is a title of nobility. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up. And it is unlawful under article 1.

I could totally see a state like NH, implementing strict and intelligent NN, and communications privacy rules. After which the offenders would be compelled to change their practices under threat of criminal prosecution.

At that point, half the tech talent in the country would flock to that state. The technicians are more pissed of than everyone else, because we know how deep the rabbit hole goes. Support our freedom at the state level, and we will support your freedom at the digital level. It is that simple.


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