New Interim FCC Boss Jessica Rosenworcel Will Likely Restore Net Neutrality, Just Not Yet
from the baby-steps dept
With Trump FCC boss Ajit Pai and his giant coffee mug headed for the revolving door, the Biden administration has tagged existing FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as the new boss of the agency. Rosenworcel is well liked by consumer advocates and industry insiders, and largely opposed the Trump FCC’s efforts to lobotomize the agency’s consumer protection authority, kill net neutrality, eliminate decades-old media consolidation rules, and effectively turn the agency into a rubber stamp for Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon’s every policy pipe dream.
Outside of that time when she helped scuttle an FCC effort to bring more competition to the cable box because the US Copyright Office (falsely) claimed doing so would violate copyright, Rosenworcel has a good track record as somebody genuinely interested in real data and real solutions. That makes her a notable improvement to Ajit Pai, who literally could not even admit US broadband is expensive, spotty, and generally mediocre, or that this is due to rampant, unchecked monopolization. It’s a willful blindness Rosenworcel clearly doesn’t share:
Don?t look away. These are kids sitting outside a Taco Bell to get the internet access they need for school. How many more pictures like this do we need to see? The FCC can help close this #homeworkgap and get every child connected. It needs to act now.https://t.co/xawx5bJJ8o
— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) August 28, 2020
Granted, with the recent rushed appointment of Trump Section 230 sycophant Nathan Simington, the FCC’s currently gridlocked at 2-2. Meaning Rosenworcel will be notably limited in what she can accomplish until Biden and Congress appoint and seat a third Democratic Commissioner. That third Commissioner could be the permanent boss, and conversations are still ongoing on that front in the Biden camp. As a result, restoring net neutrality with a 3-2 vote (and all the discourse shenanigans that entails) is likely to be some time away yet.
That doesn’t mean Rosenworcel will be powerless. For example, she could pull FCC support from the ongoing (and likely now doomed) DOJ lawsuit against California for passing its own net neutrality law. Much like when (then) new FCC boss Ajit Pai pulled the rug out from under his own lawyers in court as they were busy trying to fight against prison telco monopoly price gouging at the behest of the previous, Wheeler FCC.
Granted the Biden FCC could still go several ways here depending who they appoint as permanent agency boss (which could very well be Rosenworcel). I can see them picking an aggressive consumer advocate to lead the agency who’ll immediately set about restoring the FCC’s consumer protection authority and net neutrality, then using that power to hold telecom monopolies accountable for pandemic price gouging, improving broadband mapping, and reverse Trump era apathy to Comcast monopolization.
But I can also see them appointing a bland centrist like Obama’s first FCC boss Julius Genachowski. Somebody who’ll talk a lot about Covid and their breathless devotion to closing the “digital divide,” but won’t be eager to restore FCC authority to more efficiently meet these goals because it’s “divisive” and we need to “move forward.” Somebody who’ll say all the right things, but, like Pai, won’t be capable of clearly acknowledging that monopolization and regulatory capture are the cause of most US telecom market dysfunction.
I think the political pressure being created by Covid (42 million still lack access to any broadband whatsoever, 83 million are stuck under a monopoly) will result in the former and an aggressive Biden FCC reversal of Trump-era policies. But since kissing the ass of telecom monopolies and powerful media conglomerates is a bipartisan tradition some forty-plus years old at this point, it’s something I’ll need to see before I believe it.