FCC Under Fire For Putting ALEC Rep On 'Consumer' Advisory Board
from the foxes-and-the-hen-house dept
In 2017, FCC head Ajit Pai came under fire for filling a new “Broadband Deployment Advisory Council” (BDAC) task force with oodles of industry representatives, but few if any consumer representatives or local town or city officials. Not too surprisingly the panel saw a significant amount of controversy, several protest resignations, and the arrest of a one-time panel chair for fraud, but the panel itself never actually accomplished much of anything to address the problem it was created for.
Fast forward to last week, and the FCC has once again found itself under fire for appointing a member of the The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to the agency’s “consumer advisory” panel:
“A committee that advises the Federal Communications Commission on consumer-related matters now includes a representative of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which lobbies against municipal broadband, net neutrality, and other consumer protection measures. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his Consumer Advisory Committee’s new makeup on Wednesday. One new member is Jonathon Hauenschild, director of ALEC’s Task Force on Communications and Technology. He and other Consumer Advisory Committee will serve two-year terms.
The most obvious problem is that ALEC is directly employed by the telecom sector to undermine and eliminate consumer protections.
ALEC played a starring role in helping the broadband industry pass blatantly-protectionist bills in more than 21 states that hamstrung or simply banned towns or cities from building their own networks, even in instances when private industry refuses to. It has also bandied about cease and desist warnings against critics who’ve pointed this out. Both ALEC and Hauenschild have lobbied against net neutrality protections that continue to have the overwhelming bipartisan support of the public. You’d be hard pressed to find a single actual consumer advocate who’d agree with ALEC’s positions on these issues.
While Hauenschild likely holds some personally divergent opinions from his employer, there’s very little in his background or time at ALEC that would qualify him as expert on consumer telecom issues. Certainly nothing that would somehow position him above a universe of objective experts or academics who’ve actually worked to protect consumer welfare. And while Pai appointing a like-minded ally to an FCC panel isn’t surprising, involving ALEC also raised a few eyebrows given that even AT&T and Verizon have recently backed away from the organization due to its recent hosting of a bigoted, far-right extremist:
“ALEC has long received financial support from the telecom industry. But Verizon left ALEC in September 2018 after it hosted a speech by right-wing activist David Horowitz, in which Horowitz argued against the legalization of abortion and gay marriage, compared the left wing’s support of “redistribution of income” to slavery, and said that “at the K-12 level, school curricula have been turned over to racist organizations like Black Lives Matter, and terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Verizon explained to The Intercept that it “has no tolerance for racist, white supremacist, or sexist comment[s] or ideals.” AT&T subsequently ended its membership in ALEC, also citing the Horowitz speech.”
While ALEC certainly has expertise in consumer protection, it comes in the form of trying to prevent it from happening. Again, Pai surrounding himself with like-minded allies isn’t surprising. But appointing an ALEC rep to a consumer issue advisory panel is kind of like inviting a hungry shark to your swimming safety seminar: there’s certainly experience there, just not of a variety you’re going to find useful. And certainly not helpful when it comes to fixing the universe of problems consumers face in a telecom sector dominated by wealthy and well-connected natural monopolies.