FCC Boss Tom Wheeler Resigns, Signaling The Beginning Of The End For Net Neutrality

from the partisan-patty-cake dept

We've been discussing how FCC Boss Tom Wheeler was stuck between a rock and a hard place with a Trump Presidency looming. While Wheeler's tenure at the FCC doesn't officially end until 2018, under FCC rules he can only stay on as a vanilla Commissioner -- not the agency boss. With the incoming Trump administration and GOP making it very clear they want to gut net neutrality and defang and defund the FCC, Wheeler sticking around would have resulted in a 2-2 partisan deadlock keeping the FCC in a holding pattern -- at least until a new FCC boss is chosen and approved.

But even then, it was only a matter of time before Wheeler found himself stuck in a 3-2 minority, spending a chunk of his retirement years watching as a slow series of 3-2 partisan votes dismantled many of the efforts Wheeler has worked on during his tenure (most notably net neutrality rules, Title II reclassification, and new broadband privacy consumer protections). As a result, Wheeler this week formally announced his resignation from the agency (pdf), taking effect on January 20.

In his last meeting at the FCC today, Wheeler wouldn't comment on Trump's incoming administration, but did issue a farewell warning to those that think gutting the FCC's regulatory oversight of industry giants like AT&T or Comcast ends well for anybody not named AT&T or Comcast:
"The cry for a laissez-faire government that walks away from market oversight is also highly dangerous to consumers and those that operate in the market. And this is especially true in our interconnected world, because eliminating regulation does not mean that there will be no oversight. It only means that the regulation will be provided by other rule makers and other countries who might be incented to make rules that benefit their companies and traditions."

...As much as we would like to retreat to simpler times and simple solutions, the realities of today just don’t give us that luxury,” Wheeler said. “In the 21st Century, the common good is often defined by how we connect, and that is why the FCC is so darned important. Ignoring that reality is bad for consumers and for those who provide services to them."
Wheeler had promised to resign immediately if the GOP committed to reappointing FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to a second term. The GOP had been stalling on her confirmation for some time, but refused the offer knowing full well they'd prefer the early partisan advantage.

While many had doubts about Wheeler given his past lobbying for the cable and wireless sectors (which occurred largely when those sectors were in their infancy), he arguably became the most consumer, competition, and innovation-focused FCC Commissioner in the broadband era (which, admittedly isn't saying much). Unlike most Republican and Democratic FCC Commissioners -- who either outright ignored or underplayed the lack of competition in telecom -- Wheeler actively tried to highlight and repair the sector's duopoly dysfunction, be it via net neutrality or attempting (unsuccessfully) to thwart protectionist state laws.

As we've noted countless times, most of these issues have broad, bipartisan consumer support, but are quite intentionally framed as partisan by industry lobbyists and policy folks to help sow division and dissent, stalling substantive progress. Consumers generally approve of things like net neutrality, healthy competitive markets, and not letting companies like Comcast run amok or write awful state legislation that benefits solely itself. But time and time again, meaningful progress gets mired in a game of partisan pattycake, all quite by design.

It's unlikely the incoming administration will work to gut net neutrality, privacy and other broadband protections immediately for fear of activist backlash. Initially, it's more likely they'll simply refuse to enforce them. After that, the challenge will be to gut consumer protections like net neutrality without making it clear that's what they're doing. To accomplish this goal, you'll likely see a Congressional proposal (or Communications Act rewrite) that will pay endless lip service to the poor, competition and net neutrality, while actively working to undermine all of these things under the false banner of populist reform.

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  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 15 Dec 2016 @ 11:18am

    Open Letter to Wheeler

    Anyone know of a platform we can pen an open letter to Wheeler thanking him for giving a damn that people can sign on to? Just thinking it would be a great gesture to show that Americans do in fact care about the policies and protections he tried to erect. Get enough signatures, it might also make the congress critters think twice before they send us back to the dark ages...

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

    • identicon
      Benson, 15 Dec 2016 @ 4:38pm

      Good Riddance to Wheeler

      "... a great gesture to show that Americans do in fact care about the policies and protections he tried to erect. '


      well, I'm an American -- and thrilled to see T.Edgar Wheeler go away! One more worthless, pompous government bureaucrat gone.

      Wheeler is a dangerous government empire-builder with a lust for power. His successful government power grab over the internet was totally illegal.

      The naive Wheeler-luving dupes here are clueless as to what Wheeler/FCC really pulled off under the guise of "Net Neutrality".

      There are 1,700 FCC bureaucrats left to purge (average FCC salary is $130K)

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

      • identicon
        Thad, 15 Dec 2016 @ 4:48pm

        Re: Good Riddance to Wheeler

        The naive Wheeler-luving dupes here are clueless as to what Wheeler/FCC really pulled off under the guise of "Net Neutrality".

        And you don't seem interested in sharing. Funny, that.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Dec 2016 @ 5:15am

          Re: Re: Good Riddance to Wheeler

          Wild accusations and ridiculous claims are typical from these folk - seldom is anything presented which remotely resembles evidence, facts, or data.

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

        • identicon
          Luke T, 16 Dec 2016 @ 7:33pm

          Re: Re: Good Riddance to Wheeler

          Come on, Benson.

          It's been a whole 24 hours, and you still haven't enlightened us. What did Wheeler "pull off"? Enlighten all us "dupes".

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2016 @ 9:39pm

        Re: Good Riddance to Wheeler

        Ajit, is that you?

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

      • identicon
        Andy, 16 Dec 2016 @ 1:37am

        Re: Good Riddance to Wheeler

        WOW someone is extremely jealous of people earning a decent living, seriously upset that people do have salaries that are way above minimum wage.

        Life is about working hard to achieve a better salary and for many ,like wheeler to actually do something that helps the country improve it's competitiveness.

        even with Wheeler and the attempts to make the whole industry world competitive he has had to fight tooth and nail against those that do not care if America is last in the line for innovation and competitiveness.

        I can see in the not too distant future America losing all control of access to the internet as big business , big internet business, use profits to build something like a satellite internet that is only a few dollars a month for double the speed and cap's of any of the incumbent bastards.

        Competition is important to make things improve to force competitors to compete and not doing so will leave America with not only the worst infant mortality rate and healthcare system but with an internet that can barely be used and where business has to go outside of the American borders to actually have the competitiveness of other around the world.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Dec 2016 @ 6:51am

          Re: Re: Good Riddance to Wheeler

          "Life is about working hard to achieve a better salary"

          How depressing is that ..... seriously?

          There are many more things, some interesting others a pain, that occur in life which some might consider to be more important than earning a wage and paying bills. I know the megalomaniac narcissistic types will argue but screw those idiots, they are clueless.

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

          • identicon
            Wendy Cockcroft, 19 Dec 2016 @ 7:34am

            Re: Re: Re: Good Riddance to Wheeler

            Congratulations on being able to type that, my friend. Many of us aren't in your lucky situation. Good on you!

            Now if only the rest of us could arrive at that place wherein we have the luxury of being able to think past how to pay our rent and bills, we'd be able to pontificate as well.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2016 @ 12:39pm

    I'm also curious -

    What's Gigi Sohn going to do next? Will she stay with the FCC?

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

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 15 Dec 2016 @ 12:44pm

    RE: Open letter to Wheeler

    If you don't mind twisting the real purpose of the website a bit, putting it on petitions.whitehouse.gov might be appropriate. In addition to thanking Wheeler, it could serve as a welcoming note for the trump administration. It'll be interesting to see what the "populist" president does with the populist website for petitioning the White House in general.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2016 @ 12:50pm

      Re: RE: Open letter to Wheeler

      It would be ideal to make it as visible as possible how we appreciate someone actually performing their job as we would hope. With all the back scratching, its hard to give a damn about any politician.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2016 @ 2:46pm

        Re: Re: RE: Open letter to Wheeler

        My suggestion would be to have John Oliver do a mini-followup piece on Net Neutrality, presenting Wheeler with the inaugural "Last Week Tonight 'Not a Dingo'" award before presenting the viewing audience with a clear and easy way for them to sign on to the kind of open letter suggested.

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

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 15 Dec 2016 @ 1:02pm

    Are we basking in "greatness" yet?

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

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 15 Dec 2016 @ 1:57pm

    i had a dream about this the other night, what it boiled down to was twitter was clogged, the FCC servers crashed... again, the FCC/White House/Congress switchboards were clogged beyond use...


    at least one can dream, right?

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

  • icon
    Manabi (profile), 15 Dec 2016 @ 2:16pm

    I'm pretty sure the GOP will move quickly, not subtly

    Frankly, I'm pretty sure the GOP will move quickly to dismantle net neutrality and neuter the FCC. They have done this before historically, and all signs are that many of the party leaders are eager to overplay their hand again. They gain control and they think they have a mandate for the worst of their ideas (such as Ryan wanting to destroy Social Security and Medicare), then get slapped down by the voters.

    Now some GOP in congress, particularly the senate, are more sane and will block congressional efforts from getting passed. (Notably, GOP senators have already said they won't support Ryan's plans to destroy Social Security and Medicare. And congress as a whole is still largely terrified of provoking another backlash like SOPA did.) But the Republicans in the FCC will probably go bonkers and push their agenda quickly, hoping no one will notice. It's going to take another SOPA-style backlash to reign it in, and even then I won't be remotely surprised if Trump just throws a Twitter hissy fit and refuses to back down. Congress is beholden to the reality of needing votes for reelection. Trump doesn't seem to have a very firm relationship with reality at all. I can easily see him thinking he'll get reelected no matter what he does, because in his world he's always right.

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

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 19 Dec 2016 @ 7:36am

      Re: I'm pretty sure the GOP will move quickly, not subtly

      This is why I predicted they'd only hold both houses for two years. That ant-government crap will come crashing down around their ears if they actually succeed in enacting all their plans because voters will discover what it's like to be at the mercy of the "free" market.

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

  • icon
    clemahieu (profile), 15 Dec 2016 @ 2:21pm

    Very predictable

    I've wrote multiple times about how Net Neutrality efforts would ultimately be in vain due to voter overload and regulatory capture.

    Having a top-down organization creating all the rules **will** **not** **work**.

    All this effort pushing FCC net neutrality was wasted when we should have been focusing on state and municipal level support for eliminating monopolies. Had we been doing this from the start we'd be a lot farther along now but this FCC failed detour has cost us a considerable amount of time.

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 15 Dec 2016 @ 3:15pm

      Re: Very predictable

      I agree that, ideally, net neutrality should be dealt with by the legislative branch and not the FCC. But I can't help questioning your premise that "had we been doing this from the start we'd be a lot farther along now". We tried to move net neutrality through Congress, for years; it was a nonstarter. The only reason it ever moved to the FCC in the first place was that Congress wouldn't do anything about it.

      As far as leaving it up to states an municipalities, I don't see a whole lot of traction in that direction, and, moreover, I don't see that most municipalities have that kind of clout. Hell, I can name a few munis that tried to combat telecom monopolies and got smacked down by their state legislatures.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Dec 2016 @ 6:57am

      Re: Very predictable

      "should have been focusing on state and municipal level support for eliminating monopolies"

      So the Sherman Anti-Trust Act is no good anymore? We need new laws in order to force those in power to abide by the existing laws? Not sure what you are suggesting.

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

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 19 Dec 2016 @ 7:38am

        Re: Re: Very predictable

        No, the Sherman anti-trust act isn't good enough any more because the "free market" brigade believe that the market, not the government, will correct this situation. "Nothing to see here, move along," kind of thing.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Dec 2016 @ 5:27pm

    As usual...

    ...I don't believe much will change until they foul up Americans' TV, and the incoming powers that be will surely do exactly that. While the short term effects will be miserable, I almost welcome the disaster of getting it over with, of all but destroying the internet in an orgy of corporate land grabs. Then perhaps people will wise up, and we can rebuild.

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

  • identicon
    Richard Bennett, 15 Dec 2016 @ 8:17pm

    Yes! Yes yes yes yes YES!

    You're next, Google.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 16 Dec 2016 @ 8:18am

    Sad times. Humanity evolves in cycles pulling the bottom of the pit up a bit while it strides forward to then hit that bottom in the rebound phase. We are going down. The good news is the bottom is higher than the last time we hit it. The bad news is we are gonna hit it. Again.

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


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