Congress Keeps Holding Repeated, Pointless Hearings Just To Punish The FCC For Standing Up To ISPs On Net Neutrality

from the shame-game dept

In the year since the FCC passed net neutrality rules, ISP allies in Congress have run the agency through an endless gauntlet of show-pony hearings. While most of these hearings profess to be focused on agency transparency and accountability, they're really geared toward one single purpose: to publicly shame the agency for standing up to deep-pocketed telecom campaign contributors. Given the fact the only real way to overturn the rules is for ISPs to prevail in court or via Presidential election, this showmanship has been little more than a stunning display of wasted taxpayer dollars and stunted intellectual discourse.

Undaunted, the Senate held yet another "FCC accountability" (read: pointless tongue-lashing) hearing last week, during which Senators pummeled FCC boss Tom Wheeler with many of the same, repeatedly-debunked claims net neutrality opponents have been making since the rules were approved. Among them was the claim that the rules somehow hampered broadband investment, despite the fact that objective data (including quarterly ISP earnings reports) repeatedly shows that simply isn't the case.

For somebody that's had his time repeatedly wasted simply for upsetting the telecom status quo, Wheeler remains impressively cool under fire. For example, when fellow FCC Commissioner (and former Verizon regulatory lawyer) Ajit Pai took to the hearing to again trot out the industry-backed think tank claim that broadband investment had suffered under net neutrality, Wheeler casually highlighted that repetition does not magically forge reality:
"With all due respect to my colleague, what he has just portrayed as facts are not,” Wheeler responded. He said that investment in broadband increased, along with a 13% jump in fiber investment, as well as Internet usage and increased revenue per subscriber.

But Pai insisted that is not the case. “The FCC’s policies have failed. The administration’s policies on broadband has failed,” he said.

“We are not seeing a decline in broadband infrastructure investment. You can say it and say it and say it, but that does not make it a fact,” Wheeler responded.

Pai said he would offer up sworn declarations from Internet providers showing how the new rules had caused them to slow their investment. But Wheeler, too, offered to submit corporate statements on Internet investment, which would face Securities and Exchange Commission penalties if they were misleading.
When the rules were approved you might recall that net neutrality opponents also tried to claim that the White House "improperly influenced" the creation of the rules, since the White House vocally supported the Title II approach in November of 2014, and Wheeler voiced his support for Title II in February of 2015. This, net neutrality opponents argued, was clear evidence of an unholy cabal.

Net neutrality opponents can't point out what law was broken (because none was) and FCC history is filled with examples of the White House publicly voicing its policy preference ahead of an FCC announcement (George W. Bush urging Michael Powell to deregulate media ownership, or Bill Clinton writing a public letter urging Chairman Reed Hundt to ban hard liquor ads on TV). Still, neutrality opponents dragged this tired dog out of the cupboard at the hearing as well, accompanied by a thirty page report (pdf) designed to pretend the discredited claim has gravitas. Wheeler again remained relatively unfazed:
"Here, I would like to be really clear: There were no secret instructions from the White House. I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the president’s recommendation.”
There's two things that net neutrality opponents in DC simply refuse to acknowledge. One, the net neutrality rules were crafted after unprecedented, genuine public outcry. Two, while it's framed as a partisan fight to try and sow partisan division, net neutrality actually has broad, bipartisan support. And while accountability for laughing at the will of the people and wasting everybody's time may not be forthcoming, the reality remains that these hearings are simply a taxpayer-funded display of just how high some politicians are willing to jump for their telecom-industry campaign contributions. The political and media pretense that they're anything else is laughable.

Filed Under: congress, fcc, hearings, net neutrality


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 4:48am

    Bluff called

    “We are not seeing a decline in broadband infrastructure investment. You can say it and say it and say it, but that does not make it a fact,” Wheeler responded.

    Translation: 'No matter how many times you repeat a lie, it won't suddenly become the truth.'

    And Wheeling said this in a Senate hearing held to punish him. Ouch.

    Pai said he would offer up sworn declarations from Internet providers showing how the new rules had caused them to slow their investment. But Wheeler, too, offered to submit corporate statements on Internet investment, which would face Securities and Exchange Commission penalties if they were misleading.

    I'm guessing Pai shut right up at that point when he realized that Wheeler wasn't going to let him get away with the same old tired claims.

    'Want to make a claim? Alright, you submit your evidence, I'll submit mine, and if either is found to be 'misleading' whoever presented it get a hearty smack-down by the SEC.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 7:02am

      Re: Bluff called

      That's not how I read that. It sounded to me like what Pai had was merely PR releases from companies claiming that the rules would hinder their investment but which carry no legally binding commitment to truth for the company, but what Wheeler had was official statements that are submitted to the government that contain the actual investment numbers where the company, not Wheeler, would be subject to fines if the numbers were misleading.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 7:12am

        Re: Re: Bluff called

        Good catch, think you're right on your reading of it. It's easy for companies to claim something when there's no penalty for lying or being misleading, so I'm sure Pai could get plenty of 'sworn declarations', but what Wheeler countered with were statements that very much would have real penalties for being false, which would give them significantly more weight as evidence.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 5:41pm

          What will follow

          Since its the norm for companies to lie when deposed except when they have a gun to their heads, the next step is to always depose them with a gun to their head.

          At this point I don't imagine anyone has credibility in congress without immediately citing sources.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 6:50am

    This is good to hear. Good for our favorite not-dingo for standing up to corporate thuggery and telling the truth!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 6:50am

    Oh Please...

    Here we go again. There is too much love for the FCC here.

    We all know that corruption is so deep up there that it is also possible that Wheeler is doing this because he has been paid to do it. Why would an agency that helped create this whole fucking mess all of a sudden willingly fall on a sword over it?

    What are we really gaining? The new rules are shit because they are written in a way that gives too much power to the FCC because all that is needed for an ISP to run afoul of the law is for the FCC to feel like they did.

    Damn, I hate the ISP's too, but we are only watching what is essentially a group of corrupt bastards fight out who gets to win in a race to fuck the citizens sideways.

    Don't bet that I am going to be cheering for any of these scumbags!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 7:08am

      Re: Oh Please...

      Aside from not being more aggressive towards going after companies for zero-rating, I think Wheeler is doing exactly what he SHOULD be doing. So, if he's doing what he should be, what reason do we have to think he's corrupt?

      The argument you seem to be making is that since everyone in government is corrupt, the only reason anyone would do the right thing is if they are bribed to do so. But you've assumed your conclusion and have an argument that can be used to prove that everyone is corrupt regardless of their actions.

      I consider Wheeler to be a rare example of a person in government that actually have some semblance of integrity and is actually doing what he thinks will be best for the country given the law and the evidence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 8:28am

        Re: Re: Oh Please...

        The argument is not that everyone in government is corrupt, but that it is so corrupt that all motivations require some serious questioning.

        My interest is not an invalid on... seriously what has changed in Wheeler to make him seem so appealing now? I am not against having the dingo turn out to be a great baby sitter here, but there are other problems with this that people are not considering.

        The new rules by FCC are still problematic... like everything else in this world, as long as the rules are enforce by decent people then we have little to fear, but the current rules are written to allow unscrupulous people to screw the estate and we cannot have that regardless of whether Wheeler is at the helm or not!

        People just keep forgetting that every power you give your ally in government you also give to your enemy frothing with corruption!

        So regardless of Wheeler's rare status, it is more of an aberration and we cannot allow it to put us on our heels!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PRMan (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 9:41am

          Re: Re: Re: Oh Please...

          "The new rules by FCC are still problematic... like everything else in this world, as long as the rules are enforce by decent people then we have little to fear, but the current rules are written to allow unscrupulous people to screw the estate and we cannot have that regardless of whether Wheeler is at the helm or not!"

          You're not wrong on this point.

          For all the good Wheeler has done, doing this was very foolish indeed.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 10:06am

          Re: Re: Re: Oh Please...

          So you're saying that he may still be a dingo, but we can't show that he has actually eaten any babies?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 11 Mar 2016 @ 6:01am

          Re: Re: Re: Oh Please...

          Wheeler's career is winding down so there's no prospect of a revolving door position after leaving the FCC. This frees him from improper influence and allows him to do his job.

          That he's not perfect is not at issue here; yes, he could do better, but I'll give him A for effort.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 7:17am

      Re: Oh Please...

      There is no facet of the government untouched by corruption. In cases like these we need to support the enemy of our enemy, in this case the FCC.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 7:34am

      Re: Oh Please...

      ACtually, you'd be right.

      Wheeler was right up there in the corruption stakes. I'll be honest - when I first saw his credentials, I was fucking terrified for US data infrastructure.

      But Wheeler...has been largely on point and taking the corrupt and the amoral, both within and without of the FCC, to task for their blatant lies.

      I want him to stay on past this coming election, but I fear that the most progressive person we've seen in nearly 50 years in this arena will be botted out because he ruffled too many feathers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 8:21am

        Re: Re: Oh Please...

        I was completely disappointed when I saw Wheeler's credentials. To me it was just another political person in the pockets of big business. I have completely change that opinion and now see him as one of the few people in government that actually seems to care about the public and not if his pockets get lined with cash.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 8:36am

          Re: Re: Re: Oh Please...

          Keep in mind, as long as the rules are curated by decent people, we are going to be in good shape... but the other post indicated. Wheeler could be replaced with someone that will bend over for those assholes and that new asshole will be armed with all of the powers we gave to Wheeler creating a bigger problem than we would have.

          When it comes to government... there must always be some serious WHAT THE FUCKING going on before we go down the road of granting more power. It goes south almost every damn time!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 7:47am

    "Gentleman, no matter how many times you ask the same question, the answer will be the same. No matter how many times you repeat false, devoid of facts claims they will not become the truth. Alas I do understand your need to please your campaign contributors. But this is annoying."

    I've translated the look in his face for better comprehension.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 8:43am

    but.... why would someone keep a dog in a cupboard? and why is the dog so tired if he's just sitting in a cupboard most of the time? this issue is so confusing....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 9:35am

    It is a great way to make lists of those senators that are traitors. they broke their oaths for cash payoffs

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeDetroit (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 10:11am

    Tom Wheeler?! Who woulda thunk. I'm almost ready to call him my hero.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 11:40am

    Isn't It Ironic. Don't Ya Think?

    That the Congress has the cojones to accuse an impious relationship between the White House and the FCC, and the guts of the accusation are that the Administration stated their policy preference publicly to influence the FCC.

    Yet, when the FCC doesn't do what the Senate Majority's paid henchman want it to do, they call it on the carpet, they berate it, delay it, attack it with lies, and make Wheeler pay political consequences for his actions?

    I mean, which branch of our gov't is OBVIOUSLY meddling with an independent FCC?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      SteveOhio, 10 Mar 2016 @ 1:44pm

      Re: Isn't It Ironic. Don't Ya Think?

      You are right on. It seems very strange to accuse the White House/FCC of corruption because the President made his policy goals known, and ignore completely that the people asking the "tough questions" are all literally being paid by the corporations for whom they are carrying water. Obama has already run his last election and the current FCC Commissioner is surely aware that he is on his way out when a new administration comes into office. The only people here with a motivation to make corrupt decisions are the Senators, who just so happen to be doing exactly what we would expect if they were corrupt. What a farce.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 9:13pm

      Re: Isn't It Ironic. Don't Ya Think?

      Of course. When you get down to it, the complaint isn't that the FCC was 'improperly influenced' by the WH(it wasn't), but that it wasn't 'improperly influenced' by the cable companies which are so very generous with their 'donations'. They are all for 'improper influence', just so long as it's from the 'correct' source.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 12:49pm

    Ajit Pai = putz that accepted too much bribery, er, donations from lobbyist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    This one, 10 Mar 2016 @ 11:28pm

    Im confused..

    So to preface this .. I'm not an american, yet i've been involved in helping the fcc in my own ways since the ISP's initially managed to void the FCC's rules.

    Anyway I'm confused .. shouldn't the FCC be a team of people working towards the same ends? Seems to Me that Pai works against Wheeler any chance he gets, even if it means repeating lies, i realize internal criticism might be good, but the FCC is always being pushed by congress and so on as it is, so why is Pia still on the FCC?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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