Ex-Obama FTC Boss Now Lobbying For Comcast, Trying To Prevent States From Protecting Consumers
from the revolving-door-regulation dept
While the Trump FCC has certainly taken protectionism, corruption and cronyism to an entirely new level, it’s important not to forget that Trump and Ajit Pai are just products of the country’s long established bipartisan dysfunction when it comes to revolving door regulators, and it’s going to take more than just ejecting Trump and Pai to repair the underlying rot that has allowed them to blossom.
Case in point: former Obama FTC boss Jon Leibowitz, who has long professed himself to be a “privacy advocate,” has spent much of the last few years lobbying for Comcast while at Davis Polk. That has included making a myriad of false claims about ongoing, EFF-backed efforts to protect broadband consumer privacy in California.
In an endless wave of op-eds (where his financial conflicts of interest are almost never disclosed to the reader), Leibowitz has been busy insisting that rampant ISP privacy abuses are a “nonexistent problem,” and that strong state and FCC oversight of ISPs are unnecessary because the FTC will somehow rush in to save the day in the wake of efforts to neuter the FCC, kill net neutrality, and embolden massive anti-competitive telecom duopolies.
We’ve already outlined in detail why that’s a horrible take here. More specifically, the FTC lacks rule-making authority, and can only act against ISPs if behavior is clearly proven to be “unfair and deceptive,” something ISPs can usually wiggle out of on the net neutrality front (we weren’t throttling a competitor, we were protecting the safety and integrity of the network!). The FTC’s also understaffed, under-funded, and over-extended. And oh, did we mention that AT&T has been busy in court trying to obliterate whatever authority over ISPs the FTC does have?
Leibowitz (like most ISP lobbyists pretending to be objective analysts) “forgets” to mention that.
With more than half the states in the nation now considering some flavor of net neutrality and privacy rules in the wake of federal apathy, Leibowitz is also busy trying to help Comcast scuttle privacy and net neutrality in other states like Massachusetts. Massachusetts, with the backing of dozens of lawmakers, is contemplating new net neutrality rules that would effectively mirror the ones Comcast lobbied the FCC To dismantle last December.
Leibowitz’s oppositional testimony this week in front of state leaders included claims that net neutrality somehow hampered broadband industry investment, an ISP-lobbying claim routinely debunked by just looking at ISP earnings reports, SEC filings, and countless CEO statements:
“According to his prepared testimony for a hearing before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, Leibowitz said he recognized “the sky did not fall” when the FCC, during the Obama Administration, reclassified ISPs as Title II common carriers. But he said that reclassification did have costs to consumers, including diminished deployment of broadband, according to the FCC, as well as removing broadband consumer protection from the FTC’s jurisdiction.”
Again that diminished deployment never happened. ISP CEOs admit as much. Meanwhile, the “sky did not fall” because the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules haven’t even technically been repealed yet (that’s expected to occur sometime in April). Even then, ISPs aren’t expected to truly even start testing their newfound anti-competitive freedoms until they’re sure the FCC (with ISP help) wins their looming legal battle. Even then ISPs may not truly be comfortable behaving badly until they’re sure tougher state and federal rules are pre-empted (that’s why they’re pushing for a fake, loophole-filled net neutrality law.)
Knowing that states might fill the consumer protection vacuum, both Verizon and Comcast lobbied the Trump FCC to include language in their net neutrality repeal trying to ban states from protecting consumers (from net neutrality or privacy violations). And while Leibowitz tried to warn Massachusetts leaders that they might run afoul of the Trump FCC if they try to protect consumers (oh no!), that ignores the fact that legal experts say the FCC abdicated its authority on this front when they decided to back away from classifying ISPs as common carriers.
Again, dozens of individual state privacy and net neutrality protections aren’t ideal, but that’s something Leibowitz’s client Comcast should have thought about before lobbying to demolish popular and modest federal level privacy and net neutrality protections. The fact that ISP lobbyists still cling to false claims that net neutrality “demolished sector investment” speaks volumes as to the integrity of their arguments. Meanwhile, at some point media outlets in the States need to wake the hell up to the harm caused by publishing lobbyist op-eds without disclosing authors’ financial ties to industries they represent.