Ex-Obama FTC Boss Now Lobbying For Comcast, Trying To Prevent States From Protecting Consumers

from the revolving-door-regulation dept

While the Trump FCC has certainly taken protectionism, corruption and cronyism to an entirely new level, it's important not to forget that Trump and Ajit Pai are just products of the country's long established bipartisan dysfunction when it comes to revolving door regulators, and it's going to take more than just ejecting Trump and Pai to repair the underlying rot that has allowed them to blossom.

Case in point: former Obama FTC boss Jon Leibowitz, who has long professed himself to be a "privacy advocate," has spent much of the last few years lobbying for Comcast while at Davis Polk. That has included making a myriad of false claims about ongoing, EFF-backed efforts to protect broadband consumer privacy in California.

In an endless wave of op-eds (where his financial conflicts of interest are almost never disclosed to the reader), Leibowitz has been busy insisting that rampant ISP privacy abuses are a "nonexistent problem," and that strong state and FCC oversight of ISPs are unnecessary because the FTC will somehow rush in to save the day in the wake of efforts to neuter the FCC, kill net neutrality, and embolden massive anti-competitive telecom duopolies.

We've already outlined in detail why that's a horrible take here. More specifically, the FTC lacks rule-making authority, and can only act against ISPs if behavior is clearly proven to be "unfair and deceptive," something ISPs can usually wiggle out of on the net neutrality front (we weren't throttling a competitor, we were protecting the safety and integrity of the network!). The FTC's also understaffed, under-funded, and over-extended. And oh, did we mention that AT&T has been busy in court trying to obliterate whatever authority over ISPs the FTC does have?

Leibowitz (like most ISP lobbyists pretending to be objective analysts) "forgets" to mention that.

With more than half the states in the nation now considering some flavor of net neutrality and privacy rules in the wake of federal apathy, Leibowitz is also busy trying to help Comcast scuttle privacy and net neutrality in other states like Massachusetts. Massachusetts, with the backing of dozens of lawmakers, is contemplating new net neutrality rules that would effectively mirror the ones Comcast lobbied the FCC To dismantle last December.

Leibowitz's oppositional testimony this week in front of state leaders included claims that net neutrality somehow hampered broadband industry investment, an ISP-lobbying claim routinely debunked by just looking at ISP earnings reports, SEC filings, and countless CEO statements:

"According to his prepared testimony for a hearing before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, Leibowitz said he recognized "the sky did not fall" when the FCC, during the Obama Administration, reclassified ISPs as Title II common carriers. But he said that reclassification did have costs to consumers, including diminished deployment of broadband, according to the FCC, as well as removing broadband consumer protection from the FTC's jurisdiction."

Again that diminished deployment never happened. ISP CEOs admit as much. Meanwhile, the "sky did not fall" because the FCC's 2015 net neutrality rules haven't even technically been repealed yet (that's expected to occur sometime in April). Even then, ISPs aren't expected to truly even start testing their newfound anti-competitive freedoms until they're sure the FCC (with ISP help) wins their looming legal battle. Even then ISPs may not truly be comfortable behaving badly until they're sure tougher state and federal rules are pre-empted (that's why they're pushing for a fake, loophole-filled net neutrality law.)

Knowing that states might fill the consumer protection vacuum, both Verizon and Comcast lobbied the Trump FCC to include language in their net neutrality repeal trying to ban states from protecting consumers (from net neutrality or privacy violations). And while Leibowitz tried to warn Massachusetts leaders that they might run afoul of the Trump FCC if they try to protect consumers (oh no!), that ignores the fact that legal experts say the FCC abdicated its authority on this front when they decided to back away from classifying ISPs as common carriers.

Again, dozens of individual state privacy and net neutrality protections aren't ideal, but that's something Leibowitz's client Comcast should have thought about before lobbying to demolish popular and modest federal level privacy and net neutrality protections. The fact that ISP lobbyists still cling to false claims that net neutrality "demolished sector investment" speaks volumes as to the integrity of their arguments. Meanwhile, at some point media outlets in the States need to wake the hell up to the harm caused by publishing lobbyist op-eds without disclosing authors' financial ties to industries they represent.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 7:35am

    Meanwhile, the fact that ISP lobbyists still cling to false claims that net neutrality "demolished sector investment" speaks volumes as to the integrity of their arguments.

    Well, they can hardly come out and say the an open Internet is causing them to hemorrhage cable subscribers.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 11:47am

      Re:

      "they can hardly come out and say the an open Internet is causing them to hemorrhage cable subscribers."

      Yeah, because it is not the case.
      Competition is causing their angst, not the open-ness of the internet.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 1:15pm

        Re: Re:

        Netflix, Hulu, YouTube et al. are the competition to the other half of many ISPs business, cable T.V., and an open Internet aids them while data caps, refusing to add ports etc. can hamper them.

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

  • identicon
    ryuugami, 6 Apr 2018 @ 7:36am

    former Obama FTC boss Jon Leibowitz

    Waaait a minute...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 7:57am

    Stop it.

    If you're willing to admit that this is a problem no matter who is President, then can you please -- for all that is good on this Earth -- stop calling it the "Trump FCC"?

    Call it "Big Telecom's FCC" if you want to, but throwing Trump in there is an obvious attempt to boost your ratings in search engines.

    I'd like to think that you're better than this, Techdirt. Let the mainstream media do their clickbait things, but don't lower yourselves like this by copying them. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    Please show a better example and a higher standard in the future. Thank you.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 8:39am

      Re: Stop it.

      Indeed, Google seems to think that Karl Bode has used the term "Trump FCC" eight times as much as "Obama FCC" -- despite the fact that a normal distribution would be the complete reverse.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 9:05am

        Re: Re: Stop it.

        This statement is only pertinent is the FCC was in the news equally often per time period during the Obama administration as it is during the Trump. This is definitely not the case at the moment as the FCC has been a top news story for roughly the entirety of Trump's presidency so far.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 9:25am

          Re: Re: Re: Stop it.

          The United States of America is not a kingdom. Name-dropping the President every time someone underneath him fucks up is just reaching for clicks, when you consider that every single soldier and federal employee in the country is technically "under him" in the government hierarchy.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 9:42am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Stop it.

            It's a common tactic done for "evil" politicians. This is how Vladimir Putin, for example, is apparently able to micromannage the daily work of every one of the millions of Russian national government employees -- and anything that goes wrong, it's all his fault. (though to be fair, like many politicians, Putin takes credit for an awful lot of accomplishments that he has little to do with). Or the way that during WWII, US government propaganda painted the "bad guy" in Japan as someone who was mainly a figurehead and had very little to do with the war.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 1:30pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Stop it.

              Exactly.

              This is why I'm hoping Techdirt can rise above this garbage-level journalism. The readers have spoken, however, and it seems the majority of them would prefer things stay just the way they are, being spoon fed propaganda that's fit for a dictatorship.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 9:27am

          Re: Re: Re: Stop it.

          While the FCC may have only recently appeared on the mainstream media's radar, it's been on Karl Bode's radar for much longer. In fact, I don't know of anyone else who writes about ISP issues and related politics full-time.

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 6 Apr 2018 @ 10:28am

      Trump FCC

      Trump did throw Wheeler out on his ear very early in his term, thereby upsetting the delicate balance that kept net neutrality in place on the federal level.

      So, this is the Trump FCC, even if (like countless other US institutions) he just smashed a piece of it and let entropy take its course.

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

      • identicon
        Thad, 6 Apr 2018 @ 11:34am

        Re: Trump FCC

        If it hadn't been Wheeler, it would have been one of the other two Democrats on the FCC. The FCC always has a one-vote majority for the president's party.

        But Trump is responsible for promoting Pai to chair and for appointing Carr (Pai's former aide). He was required to give these positions to Republicans, yes -- but he was not required to give them to those specific Republicans.

        Trump and McConnell were well within their rights and power to put pro-net neutrality Republicans on the commission. They chose not to.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Apr 2018 @ 4:18pm

        Re: Trump FCC

        Wheeler willfully resigned; he wasn't thrown out. He could have stayed on for longer to give a 2-2 balance (at least until the third Republican was chosen). It's customary for the chairperson to resign when a new President is elected, but he still could've stayed on from my understanding, just not as chairman.

        https://www.wired.com/2016/12/tom-wheeler-resigns-fcc-long-net-neutrality/

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 10:40am

      Re: Stop it.

      Oh good, more both sides nonsense.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 1:08pm

        Re: Re: Stop it.

        You brainless moron. The very article itself describes how both sides are responsible for making the FCC a mess. Don't blame me for pointing out how despite the attempt to paint a bipartisan problem, the writer of this article still can't help from building an evil Cult of Personality around Trump at any given opportunity.

        It's cheap, it's unnecessary and it's a distraction from who is responsible for these problems. Corrupt politicians on all sides and the telecoms who buy their way into power. Don't tell me things would have been different if we were doing things "her" way.

        Ultimately, the best thing to call it is "America's FCC", but that cuts a bit too deep for most of you readers, doesn't it?

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

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 6 Apr 2018 @ 6:17pm

          "America's FCC"

          That the FCC ignored the most recent comments period -- which still called for net neutrality and type-2 classification by an overwhelming majority despite efforts to sabotage it and discredit it -- has demonstrated that it no serves the will of the public of the United States.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 8:28am

    burst pipe vs. slow drip

    A flagrantly corrupt government can be a very good thing, particularly in the long term, because it helps mobilize resistance and gets issues out in the press and the public discussion that would have otherwise been largely ignored with a less corrupt (but still corrupt) government.

    It's perhaps not unlike the way that gun control advocates yearn for the next big mass-shooting, because it provides the ideal environment and opportunity to finally get something done that's been languishing for a long time and would otherwise be very difficult to accomplish.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 9:46am

      Re: burst pipe vs. slow drip

      Heh. One could also argue that NRA loves mass-shootings since it creates fear among their members and urgency for buying more before laws change. With Trump in office, gun sales has stalled to a point where it is severely hurting the weapon-industry and by proxy NRA.

      It is a bloody business when both extremes benefit from mass-shootings! No reason to do anything but symbolic gestures and wash your hands, while you dry them in greenbacks, if you are a politician...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 11:50am

      Re: burst pipe vs. slow drip

      Broken window fallacy?

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Apr 2018 @ 8:34am

    Wait, wait, wait. I found a way to stop lobbying. We must show this to Trump and say it was a widespread practice in the Obama governments!

    On second thoughts, we shouldn't, Trump quietly maintained everything bad Obama left while trying to destroy anything good. Nevermind.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 6 Apr 2018 @ 12:20pm

    Might be true...

    BUT,
    It also proves MONEY SPEAKS LOUDLY..
    And a person Hired to a do a job, IS DOING HIS JOB..

    Can you guess WHO is paying him, at the bottom??
    YOU AND ME..so the copr can pay him Millions and billions to SHOw his support and BS the rest of us, and the prices for these services GOES UP AND UP AND UP...

    Want to see a change? get everyone that has the service to GO TO VACATION MODE for 1 month, or until they lower prices...
    Watch them Sh;t themselves..
    Customer service couldnt handle all the calls..it would take them 2 weeks to do it..
    It would confuse the Spit out of them..they would be going NUTS and the bills would get WEIRD..
    10,000,000 all calling at 1 time going to vacation mode...and no end date..(dont give one, just say its 1 month PLUS) Then go find something ELSE to do for 1 month..and watch for the sales to come up IF YOU COME BACK..

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

  • icon
    bloodnok (profile), 7 Apr 2018 @ 8:35pm

    isn't bipartisanship wonderful

    in this polity, corruption is the most bipartisan of all.

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


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