Big Telecom Finally Ends Quest To Stop States From Protecting Broadband Consumers
from the it's-the-corruption,-stupid dept
The Trump FCC spent four years being a giant rubber stamp for giant U.S. telecom monopolies. That included rubber stamping mergers before even reading the details, gutting FCC consumer protection authority, and demolishing decades-old media consolidation rules crafted with broad bipartisan consensus, and stripping away your town and city’s ability to stand up to giant carriers.
The Trump GOP and Congress killed efforts to impose basic and helpful broadband privacy rules (kind of important given the repeated location data scandals since). They scuttled net neutrality. And they convinced the Ajit Pai FCC to lobotomize its authority to police bad behavior by unpopular companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. If you recall, this unpopular policy paradigm was all propped up by the illusion of public support via the use of dead and fake people.
There was only really one telecom industry gambit that didn’t work out during the Trump era, and not because they didn’t try.
The telecom lobby convinced the Trump/Ajit Pai FCC to include language in the “restoring Internet freedom” net neutrality repeal that tried to effectively ban states from being able to protect broadband consumers from fraudulent behavior. The goal was fairly obvious: weaken federal consumer protection authority, then proclaim that states couldn’t step in and fill the void. Basically: no oversight at all.
That… hasn’t gone well with the courts. A series of federal rulings in California kept making it clear that the FCC can’t abdicate its consumer protection authority, then turn around and tell states what they can or can’t do. And after a court recently ruled this direction for a third time, big ISPs have finally given up on this particular fight:
While states being allowed to protect broadband consumers is a good thing, it’s hard to spend too much time drinking bubbly. For every California, Maine, or Washington (states with AGs that are fairly competent on the subject of broadband consumer protection) there’s a laundry list of states that are quite literally little more than rubber stamps to the interests of AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Charter.
The Trump FCC gambit to effectively lobotomize federal telecom consumer protection was massively effective, leaving the FCC without the authority or staff to meaningfully police bad telecom actors during a pandemic. Little of it has been fixed, and even among Democrats any incentive to do much about it feels muted and pathetic (it took the Biden team nine months to nominate a third FCC Commissioner).
With the entirety of DC policy fixated on the problems with “big tech,” there’s little real incentive to do much of anything about it. Folks are bored of net neutrality, largely because they didn’t understand what the fight was actually about: telecom monopolization, media consolidation, and whether you want federal regulators on these fronts that are anything more than marionettes for Comcast and AT&T.
“Net neutrality must not have mattered because the internet didn’t explode after repeal” is an incorrect but common and effective right wing trope. The resulting apathy has allowed the GOP and telecom sector to work hand in hand to potentially scuttle the nomination of popular and qualified FCC nominee Gigi Sohn using manufactured smears — all to keep the FCC stuck in feckless partisan gridlock.
Again, having competent and functional media and telecom regulators matters. Affordable internet in the climate change and COVID era matters. Competent broadband privacy policies matter (especially in the facing of surging authoritarianism). Cutting the head off of the FCC and shoveling the entire onus of consumer protection off to the states won’t work well in a country where a long line of states are little more than sniveling servants of giants like AT&T.
But we seem intent on pandering to telecom monopolies all the same. Which is particularly “entertaining” given all of the lip service being paid to “bipartisan antitrust reform” over the last few years. This interest in antitrust reform very clearly does not apply to some of the most obvious examples of natural monopolies the U.S. has on offer.