Trump's FCC Pats Itself On The Back For A Historically Stupid Year

from the mission-accomplished dept

If you’ve been playing along at home, Trump’s FCC hasn’t been particularly kind to consumers, competition, or the health of the internet. It has, however, been a massive boon to major ISPs terrified of disruption and competition, especially those looking to forge new media monopolies where they dominate both the conduit — and the content — coming to the home.

Under Pai, the FCC has gutted broadband programs for the poor, protected the cable industry’s monopoly over the cable box from competition, made it easier for prison phone monopolies to rip off inmate families, dismantled generations old media consolidation rules simply to aid Sinclair Broadcasting’s merger ambitions, killed meaningful broadband privacy protections, tried to weaken the standard definition of broadband (to help hide competition gaps) and weakened rules preventing business broadband and backhaul monopolies from abusing smaller competitors, hospitals, or schools.

And that’s before you even get to Pai’s attack on net neutrality, potentially one of the least popular tech policy decisions in the history of the modern internet. That entire calamity is a universe unto itself, with the FCC currently under investigation for turning a blind eye to identity theft and fraud during the open comment period, as well as for bizarrely making up a DDOS in a ham-fisted attempt to downplay the public’s disdain for Pai’s agenda. It will take many years and numerous lawsuits for the problems with Pai’s rushed repeal of the rules to fully materialize.

With Pai’s tenure seen as a shitshow in the wake of the net neutrality repeal, the FCC recently tried to undertake an image reclamation effort. That came in the form of a press release (pdf) lauding what the FCC calls a “year of action and accomplishment” in terms of “protecting consumers,” “promoting investment,” and “bridging the digital divide.” You just know the FCC under Pai is doing a good job because, uh, graphics:

Amusingly, the lion’s share of the agency’s listed “accomplishments” were noncontroversial projects simply continued from the last FCC under Tom Wheeler. That includes efforts to open additional spectrum for wireless use, attempts to speed up cell tower placement, or ongoing efforts to reduce robocalls (the impacts of which aren’t apparent). Many of the listed efforts are just the FCC doing its job, ranging from conducting an investigation into the recently botched Hawaii ballistic missile snafu, to “approving new wireless charging tech” that nobody thought should be blocked anyway.

Elsewhere, the agency’s accomplishment list engages in willful omission. For example, while the FCC pats itself on the back for creating a “broadband deployment advisory council,” it ignores the fact that said counsel is plagued by allegations of cronyism and dysfunction in the wake of recent resignations. The FCC similarly pats itself on the back for the agency’s Puerto Rico hurricane response, despite the fact that locals there say the federal government and the FCC failed spectacularly in its response to the storm.

But it’s the agency’s claims of consumer protection that continue to deliver the best unintentional comedy. As you might expect, Pai’s FCC continues to claim that killing net neutrality rules was a good thing because the rules devastated sector investment, a proven lie the agency simply can’t stop repeating:

“Voted to restore the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework that fostered rapid Internet growth, openness, and freedom for nearly 20 years. This action reversed the FCC?s 2015 imposition of heavy-handed Title II utility-style government regulation on Internet providers that discouraged investment in next-generation networks.

Another “accomplishment” cited by the FCC is its decision to kill a net neutrality investigation into AT&T and Verizon’s abuse of zero rating (exempting select content from usage caps if companies pay more). The previous FCC was just about to ding both companies for exempting their own content from usage caps, having noted how caps can be used as an anti-competitive weapon, driving up costs for consumers and competitors alike. Trump’s FCC is not only proud to have killed that inquiry, but insists doing so helps the nation’s poor:

“Free Consumer Data?Ended a 2016 investigation into wireless carriers? free-data offerings. These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace.”

The accomplishment list pays heavy lip service to the agency’s efforts to “close the digital divide,” a goal we’ve repeatedly noted is consistently undermined by other agency policies like killing net neutrality or the FCC’s privacy rules (which could have prevented ISPs from charging you more for privacy). For example Pai’s FCC is slowly dismantling Lifeline, a modest $10 per month telecom subsidy for poor people begun by Reagan and expanded under Bush Jr. The FCC is also working overtime to protect the sector from competition on both the business and residential sectors.

Over and over, the FCC’s accomplishment list conflates cronyism with consumer welfare. For example, the FCC’s self-congratulatory missive crows about the agency having:

“Adopted an order relieving unnecessary regulation in areas where business data services are delivered competitively in order to promote facilities-based investment.”

What the FCC actually did is notably different. In reality, the FCC eliminated price caps for broadband data services (BDS), where AT&T and Verizon enjoy a monopoly over the bandwidth used to feed everything from ATMs to cell towers. Not only that, Pai’s FCC weakened the definition of “competitive” in this sector to aid these monopolies, declaring a business served by “competitive broadband” if there’s one ISP within a half mile. The end result? Higher prices than ever for the small businesses, schools, hospitals and others left without affordable connectivity options.

The FCC’s accomplishment list routinely and repeatedly dresses up industry cronyism as progress and transparency. And it dresses up its complete disdain for objective data as a devotion to hard science. For example, the FCC praises itself for the creation of a new “Office of Economics and Analysis” it claims will help “restore the place of economic analysis at the FCC.” But as we just got done noting this is the same FCC that just got done ignoring all objective science in its rush to repeal net neutrality, making Pai’s purpoted dedication to objective economics laughable.

Fortunately for us, historians, not Ajit Pai, will have the final say on Ajit Pai’s accomplishments. And if year one is anything to go by, cronyism, disinformation, a lack of transparency and hubris will be this agency’s historical legacy.

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Comments on “Trump's FCC Pats Itself On The Back For A Historically Stupid Year”

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45 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Adding Insult to Injury

I see Pai isn’t the only one patting himself on the back for his ‘achievements’, try not to dislocate your arm when you reach behind yourself and engage in your usual self-praising blathering.

I too remember when the public was offered the choice of Pai or Wheeler, and foolishly chose Pai to head the FCC, such that they could be blamed for his actions.

… wait, no, I don’t remember that, because the public didn’t choose Pai.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nonsense, if he has children they clearly can tell/will be able to tell what kind of person he is, and therefore if they aren’t willing to take any action to distance themselves from him, no matter how extreme, clearly they must be to blame, because they could have done something but chose not to.

If they’re not willing to cut all familial ties then it could only be because they support what he has/is done/doing, and as such it’s only fair to blame them for his actions, because it’s not like they won’t have heard other people telling them how corrupt he is, leaving them no excuse.

/s

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Only when assholes like you come along, why should the kids be ashamed, they didn’t get to pick their parents.

Yeah, punishing kids for the sins of their parents is bad. Except when they’re "dreamers" – amirite?

Fuck Pai, and if his kids have to live with the shame of his douchebaggery then so be it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There is no shame. Not any more. These kinds of people DO NOT FEEL SHAME. It doesn’t matter what they do. It doesn’t matter how many people they hurt. It doesn’t matter how damage they do. It simply doesn’t matter.

Haven’t you figured it out yet? This administration is staffed — starting at the top — with malignant narcissists and insane kleptocrats who only care about (1) themselves and (2) their money. That’s it. They would cheerfully kill millions of Americans IF they could get away with it and profit from it. And you know what? THEY’RE DOING IT. Average lifespans are down. Infant mortality rates are up. Health care costs leave people deciding between bankruptcy or death.

There will never be the slightest iota of shame among those responsible for this. They’re incapable of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

We voted them into office and the ones appointed were appointed by the ones we voted in. You can try to escape blame by saying I didn’t vote THAT ONE in office but you voted ONE OF them into office because of party politics.

Of course they are not capable of shame, we don’t require it of them and will not get rid of them when they turn corrupt. All they need to do to keep their elected positions is to lie to us about things and we buy it every time.

Congress is like a dirty diaper… if you do not keep it changed it the stench just keeps getting worse and there are a lot of career politicians up there!

Jeffrey Nonken says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“You can try to escape blame by saying I didn’t vote THAT ONE in office but you voted ONE OF them into office because of party politics.”

…Nnnno, I didn’t vote anybody into office. My vote was counted, but my vote did not count. But my vote was not for anybody currently in office.

Don’t try to blame this on me.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

If your vote was counted, then your vote counted.

People need to know that a vote for a third party isn’t a spoiled ballot. They still have influence.

Even with only a small handful of seats in Congress, a third party would often be the deciding factor in many votes. The two main parties would have to make deals or form coalitions with the third party to get their majority or supermajority. And that means adopting a few of the third party’s policies.

Or the one of the two main parties will see a third party’s policy earning them a better spot in the polls, and they’ll adopt it for themselves. And so the third party’s policy gets enacted without the party being elected. It also makes the two main parties seem less like one party with two heads.

This is how it works in Canada. Some of the best Canadian administrations have been minority governments – governments where they have to make deals with the other parties to stay in power.

Granted, those third and 4th Canadian parties (like the NDP) often form provincial governments. So they have a source of experienced politicians who can run federally. The 2016 US Presidential candidates for the Libertarian and Green parties were a joke.

The independents in Congress prevented Obama from enacting a public health option in 2009, and then allowed him to enact the ACA. In Canada the NDP is credited for creating the public healthcare system, even though they’ve never run a federal government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“People need to know that a vote for a third party isn’t a spoiled ballot. They still have influence.”

It has been my experience that people do not care for the facts. How they feel is more important. So if they “feel” that their vote did not count, then it did not count, regardless of the facts.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

This is how it works in Canada. Some of the best Canadian administrations have been minority governments – governments where they have to make deals with the other parties to stay in power.

Yeah, but the differences between how elections work in the US and in Canada are pretty significant, and comparisons between the two systems are pretty fraught.

The independents in Congress prevented Obama from enacting a public health option in 2009

Independents, plural? You’re talking about one independent, Joe Lieberman.

There was only one other independent in Congress, Bernie Sanders. He sure as hell didn’t oppose the public option.

As for Lieberman, he was a unique case: a long-serving senator who was disliked by the base of his party, lost a primary, ran as an independent, was re-elected, and went back to caucus with his former party. This isn’t really a path any other politician can follow deliberately, nor would they want to. (Nobody loses a primary on purpose.)

Besides which point, that wasn’t a minority government. Democrats had an outright majority (58 seats in the Senate, 255 in the House), even without the two independents caucusing with them in the Senate.

Lieberman’s importance wasn’t that he gave the Democrats a majority, it’s that he gave them a filibuster-proof majority.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Independents, plural? You’re talking about one independent, Joe Lieberman.

Nelson and Baucus may not have technically been independents, but they weren’t team players.

Democrats had an outright majority (58 seats in the Senate, 255 in the House)

Which meant nothing without a supermajority.

Lieberman’s importance wasn’t that he gave the Democrats a majority, it’s that he gave them a filibuster-proof majority.

That’s my point. Independents or a 3rd party can be the deciding factor, wielding extraordinary power.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I hate that shit. The president does not have that much control over the economy. They deserve very little of the blame or kudos for it going bad or good.

The economy is very much controlled by private business forces and it is “their perceptions” that collectively change the market. If they “feel” that the sitting president is friendly to them they make the market look good. If they don’t “feel” that the sitting president is friendly to them they make the market look bad.

The economy is driven more by human emotions and greed than by facts or reason. The downturn is no more Trumps fault than the upturn, regardless of who says what. It is the same every year, sitting presidents often assume responsibility when times are good and pass blame when they are bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In the short term the market is driven by emotions. In the longer term, the market represents the trust of the economy in companies.

As with the market short term being emotion-driven a president may be able to make investors feel better. But as with all emotions they will eventually shift.

However, legislation can move the markets! But as mentioned, it won’t be short term: The economic reality of legal changes will never hit the books in less than a few months. Usually it takes a lot more time for companies to make the transitions to applying the law most advantageously. In other words the sitting president can blow bubbles in the market, but the true effect of presidential actions are several years delayed.

Anyone crediting a sitting president with short term market moves are generally diluted. Anyone trusting the short term market movements to be rational are diluting!

Iggy says:

Does the truth ever come out?

“Fortunately for us, historians, not Ajit Pai, will have the final say
on Ajit Pai’s accomplishments.”

I do wonder. I’ve never seen an economics textbook which identifies ISPs as an example of a natural monopoly. I have never seen a history textbook which describes electric monopolies of the early 20th centry and what was done about them. Most histroy about the trustbusting era just mentions “cornering the market” without going into details about any boring but harmful shennanigans. I’ve never seen a textbook use Facebook or Microsoft as examples of network effect monopolies. Reading some of the Libertarian literature, you would think the only monopolies are government mandated ones. Is there even such a thing as an independent economist and an honest attempt at statistics to find the truth? I wonder.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Does the truth ever come out?

The truth is not wanted here, just political zealotry.

Government formed monopolies have the force of law behind them, which is why businesses actually do want regulation through you hear them claim that they are against them. They only claim to be against regulations because it gets the knee-jerk left to desire regulations. They do not know they got played and when you tell them that they get pretty defensive about it.

What they refuse to accept is that a Free-Market monopoly can be easily defeated compared to a regulatory sanctioned one. Additionally, if a monopoly can continue to exist in a free-market then there is a higher chance that the business operating the monopoly is doing so in a fashion that is far more benevolent to the consumers making it hard for competition because the current business is always doing it well enough.

The problem with free-market is that people are often too weak willed to collectively fight monopolies so I support regulations that “attack” monopolies. I just do not support regulation that can “control” them like NN for example.

“Is there even such a thing as an independent economist and an honest attempt at statistics to find the truth?”

Nope. Always assume bias, even though I try to avoid bias myself I will obviously have them. The people you KNOW you can’t trust are the ones that claim no bias or intolerance. These are not possible, everyone has bias and intolerance of some kind.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Does the truth ever come out?

Is there even such a thing as an independent economist and an honest attempt at statistics to find the truth?

HA, HA! Ya slay me.

WAY, WAY, back the "capitalists" began making "charitable endowments" to universities, and eventually got to now where only opinion allowed in economics is Corporatism. You simply do not graduate if don’t give the answers profs wants. "Economics" is not a hard science, but opinions about who should labor for little and who should command from luxury. — Masnick believes that he’s fit to command at least the entire film and music industries, is constantly telling them "you’re doing it all wrong".

"Economics" is now just "efficiency for corporations", no other considerations. When common law is forgotten (soon), they’ll "legalize" Google’s Soylent Rainbow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

To go one step further, Trump nominated a sitting FCC commissioner to chair the agency. A commissioner originally appointed by Obama (and unanimously confirmed). Most likely because it did not require an immediate confirmation vote in the senate. Trump has only ever shown the slightest passing interest in telecom policy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It seems to be a recent theme of Karl’s. Blame Trump for everything. I did a quick skim of article’s from other sites and during the Obama/Wheeler years the FCC is referred to as “the FCC” with no ownership and only recently has Karl started putting “Trump” in. Even during the public/bot comment phase of the net-neutrality repeal it was “The FCC.” It’s veering towards click-bait, which just diminishes the article (which I actually like).

Will B. says:

Sophistry

“Free Consumer Data—Ended a 2016 investigation into wireless carriers’ free-data offerings. These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace.”

Erm… you are claiming ending an investigation as a positive? Buddy, the only reason you ended the investigation was because you knew it would conclude with the result you didn’t want to hear. If you really believe that the free-data offerings were a positive, you’d have faith that the investigation would conclude that that’s actually the case.

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