Biden 'Competition Council' Urges Biden FCC To Do Things It Can't Do Because Biden Hasn't Fully Staffed It Yet
from the circular-dysfunction dept
Back in July, the Biden administration signed an executive order creating a new “competition council” tasked with taking a closer look at competition and monopoly issues in various business sectors. One of those sectors was telecom, which remains dominated by a handful of politically powerful regional monopolies, resulting in decades of spotty broadband service, high prices, and terrible customer service.
Back in July, the council offered several bits of advice as to how this could be fixed, including forcing ISPs to provide more clear pricing data to government (allowing policymakers to clearly illustrate the harms of regional monopolies), forcing ISPs to be more transparent with consumers about sneaky fees and pricing, and the restoration of the FCC’s consumer protection authority stripped away during the Trump-era net neutrality repeal:
“(i) adopting through appropriate rulemaking ‘Net Neutrality’ rules similar to those previously adopted under title II of the Communications Act of 1934 (Public Law 73-416, 48 Stat. 1064, 47 U.S.C. 151 et seq.), as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, in “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet,” 80 Fed. Reg. 19738 (Apr. 13, 2015);”
Last week the council held its inaugural meeting, including eight cabinet members and the leaders of seven independent agencies, including the FCC and acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel. As it was designed to do, the meeting focused on ways the administration can lower prices, shore up competition, and break down monopolistic logjams across business sectors:
“In the Council?s inaugural meeting, NEC Director Brian Deese (Council Chair) emphasized that the President?s competition agenda is core to the Administration?s plan to Build Back Better and critical to keeping prices low for American consumers, spurring innovation, and allowing small businesses to compete on a level playing field.”
But for risk of beating a dead horse, the FCC still can’t actually do any of the things the counsel asks of it because the Biden team still hasn’t picked permanent agency bosses for either the FCC or NTIA.
Without a permanent boss and 3-2 voting majority, the FCC can’t really do much of anything controversial to shore up telecom competition issues, much to the relief of sector giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. Mired in partisan gridlock (quite intentionally by the Trump administration and the speedy appointment of Nathan Simington at the end of his term), it can’t do much else of any controversy either, whether that involves media consolidation or disaster preparedness. Worse, Rosenworcel’s tenure ends at the end of the year, so if this apathy continues there’s a chance the agency could see a 2-1 GOP majority in the new year, leaving it even further incapable of any real reform.
I’ve spent months talking to folks around DC asking why team Biden hasn’t staffed its telecom regulators eight months into his first term, and nobody has a reasonable explanation. While there’s clearly a lot going on, the administration wasn’t too busy to give top Comcast lobbyist David Cohen a cushy job as the U.S. Canadian Ambassador. At this rate, by the time a permanent FCC boss is seated, a full year of policy time will have been wasted, which doesn’t exactly scream “urgency” when it comes to telecom monopoly, media consolidation, or other reform.
The apathy on telecom and FCC staffing is an odd clash with the selection of antitrust-buster Lina Khan at the FTC. But it kind of fits the current DC obsession with fixating exclusively on “big tech,” while “big telecom” engages in much of the same (or sometimes worse) behavior. At some point you have to wonder if the apathy on telecom and media reform isn’t a screw up but an active policy choice.