Big Telecom Is Mad Because New FCC Appointment Gigi Sohn Actually Defends Broadband Consumers
from the dysfunction-junction dept
So after the longest (and completely unexplained) delay in FCC and NTIA history, last week the Biden administration finally got around to fully staffing the nation’s top telecom regulator. While the selection of fairly centrist Jessica Rosenworcel is expected to make it through the confirmation process, the same can’t be said of Gigi Sohn, a popular consumer advocate:
“Republican senators largely said they can live with Rosenworcel ? but GOP leaders say they?re drawing the line at Sohn and her perceived regulatory bent. ”
What’s the GOP’s primary problem with Sohn? Apparently it’s her diabolical tendency toward coalition building (gasp) and support for local community broadband (double gasp):
“Sohn has long had a reputation as a shrewd operator within telecom circles, adept at pulling together coalitions in support of causes such as fighting industry consolidation and empowering local governments to build their own internet networks.”
If you’re new here, the GOP’s opposition to Sohn is being directly coordinated by the nation’s biggest telecom monopolies. And for twenty years, the telecom industry has been terrified of having U.S. regulators actually do their jobs, promote competition, crack down on monopoly power, and protect consumers. This is almost always dressed up as other concerns, like the 25-year-old bogeyman idea that appointing a competent consumer advocate will immediately result in broadband price regulation:
“The main GOP concern about Sohn is the same one that bedeviled the final hours of this summer?s infrastructure bill negotiations: the prospect that Democrats may want to regulate the prices that broadband providers like Comcast charge customers. That possibility is one reason Republicans have spent years opposing net neutrality, which they worry would lead to the FCC assuming more regulatory power over broadband networks.”
But again, U.S. broadband price regulation never happens. Even under the most progressive FCC in a generation (Tom Wheeler, whom Sohn closely advised), meaningful price regulation was always kept off the table. The net neutrality rules were carefully crafted to avoid it. It’s simply a non-starter in DC. But it is useful as a GOP “slippery slope” argument bogeyman, providing useful cover for just blanket fealty to regional telecom monopolies. “We shouldn’t stand up to telecom monopolies in any way because it might result in broadband price caps!” The fear-mongering has proven effective for 25 straight years.
This knee-jerk opposition to anything that would upset Comcast, AT&T and Verizon is buried under the guise of other complaints too, like the GOP’s claim that Democrats are going to rush Sohn’s appointment:
“Republican senators largely said they can live with Rosenworcel ? but GOP leaders say they?re drawing the line at Sohn and her perceived regulatory bent. And they?re not on board with Democrats? push to rush the confirmations through.”
Politico’s fecklessness strikes again in that they just “forget” to mention that the GOP rushed through the appointment of largely unqualified Trump BFF Nathan Simington late last year in under 28 days, with the obvious goal of creating 2-2 partisan gridlock at the agency. At the telecom industry’s direct behest, Politico’s selective GOP brunch sources want to maintain this gridlock for as long as possible.
The GOP has been a mindless rubber stamp for regional telecom monopolies for literally decades. There is literally no terrible idea AT&T or Comcast has pushed they won’t support. That’s not an opinion. It’s not debatable. Yes, there are also corrupt Democratic senators on this front, but if you actually look at policy history on this subject, there’s no comparison. By and large Democratic policymakers have at least occasionally tried (sloppily and tepidly to be sure) to foster competition, protect consumers, and occasionally thwart broadband monopolization. Sometimes.
The GOP, in contrast, has been a full-throttle ride down a rabbit hole of mindlessly pandering to AT&T and Comcast at nearly every opportunity. For forty straight years. The party will simply deny that the U.S. broadband industry isn’t competitive. They’ll demolish every consumer protection effort. They’ll approve every competition and job-killing merger. This history speaks for itself, yet when a beltway brunch outlet like Politico covers why the GOP is opposing the appointment of a popular, consumer-focused regulator to the FCC, that entire history is just not mentioned out of fear of offending sources and advertisers.
Politico’s read on the room could be a bit skewed by its sources, as Sohn has historically been well respected as a straight shooter across both sides of the aisle. Democrats could push her through without the GOP, but they’ll again have to rely on the votes of Manchin and Sinema, the latter of which has actively thwarted efforts to restore net neutrality after being pressured by Comcast lobbyists.