Biden Has Wasted A Year Failing To Fill Top Telecom Oversight Spots

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

Consumer groups have grown increasingly annoyed at the Biden administration's failure to pick a third Democratic Commissioner and permanent FCC boss nearly eight months into his term. After the rushed Trump appointment of unqualified Trump BFF Nathan Simington to the agency (as part of that dumb and now deceased plan to have the FCC regulate social media), the agency now sits gridlocked at 2-2 commissioners under interim FCC head Jessica Rosenworcel.

While the FCC can still putter along tackling its usual work on spectrum and device management, the gridlock means it can't do much of anything controversial, like reversing Trump-era attacks on basic telecom consumer protections, media consolidation rules, or the FCC's authority to hold telecom giants accountable for much of, well, anything. If you're a telecom giant like AT&T or Comcast, that's the gift that just keeps on giving.

As the Washington Post notes, the Biden camp hasn't appointed anybody to lead the other top telecom regulatory agency, the NTIA. The inaction on both the NTIA and FCC appointments are setting records:

"Nearly eight months into his presidency, Biden has yet to pick permanent leaders for the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which together oversee and set policy for the broadcast and Internet service industries. For the FCC, that’s slower than any president since Jimmy Carter in 1977 — just by a few days — and for NTIA, it’s the longest ever since the agency’s founding in 1978.

Adding some complexity to this mess is the fact that interim FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel's term is up at the end of the year. So if this trend of telecom policy apathy continues, there's the possibility that the GOP could enjoy a 2-1 Commissioner majority at the Biden FCC. Which, you know, isn't great if you care about doing absolutely anything to hold regional telecom monopolies accountable. During a pandemic. In which broadband has been shown to be essential infrastructure. And during a climate crisis. When companies are showing their networks still aren't resilient enough. It's bad, is what I'm saying. Even if your primary goal isn't restoring net neutrality and FCC authority.

While the Biden administration certainly inherited a lot to deal with, there's really no excuse for the delay. It's not as if the administration is being asked to build a nuclear reactor out of string cheese and lint -- it's just some regulatory appointments and hearings. At this rate, by the time the FCC appoints somebody, it will take most of the rest of the year to get them seated. So whereas the Trump GOP set about dismantling telecom consumer protection with a brutal efficiency, the Biden team will have wasted an entire year. Consumer groups are being polite about it, but it's a big screw up:

"We've had a lost year in policymaking because of the slowness of the Biden administration to name a full FCC,” said Christopher Lewis, president and CEO of consumer group Public Knowledge, which backs reinstating the Obama-era net neutrality rules. “It's probably the biggest missed opportunity we have had in communications policy this year."

The Ajit Pai Donald Trump GOP assault on the FCC's consumer protection authority was relentless, ruthless, and incredibly efficient. Nathan Simington, generally viewed as unqualified for the role given his lack of telecom experience, got his FCC spot with a 31 day rushed appointment. The Democrats had an opportunity to be equally efficient and ruthless in appointing their picks and restoring FCC authority, and instead they've chosen to trip over their own asses. Nobody I've spoken to anywhere in DC can provide a functional reason why telecom oversight has simply been forgotten.

Though it is worth reminding folks that the myopic DC internet policy focus on "big tech" is something telecom and media giants (from AT&T to Rupert Murdoch) have actively and repeatedly encouraged. They want the focus exclusively on the large tech giants whose ad empires they covet and not on their own monopolization, privacy, or other problems. It's also worth reminding folks that there was no such delay, controversy, or consternation when it came time to give Comcast lobbyist David Cohen (a top Biden fundraiser) a kushy job as Canadian Ambassador.

At some point you have to assume that whoever has Biden's ear likes having an FCC whose consumer protection authority has been largely lobotomized courtesy of one of the most scandal prone and unpopular policy proceedings in internet policy history.

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Filed Under: fcc, joe biden, net neutrality, ntia, regulation, telcos


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2021 @ 6:57am

    `The politics and patronage are why US regulatory agencies fail to do their jobs so often. A Biden appointee would only be a short term fix, if effective, with the next president able to appoint someone to undo any improvement they make to consumer protection.

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

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 8 Sep 2021 @ 7:03am

    Now now, let’s be fair here. This isn’t entirely the fault of President Biden.

    It’s also the fault of Congressional Democrats for not pushing him harder to get the fucking job done⁠—and done right, might I add.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2021 @ 7:11am

      Re:

      It’s also the fault of Congressional Democrats for not pushing him harder to get the fucking job done⁠—and done right, might I add.

      Eh, do you have proff most of those actually have done so much as flirt with competency (where that's not defined in terms of ability to exploit corruption/dysfunction)?

      If not: seems kind of like blaming 5 year olds for not forcing a toddler to clean his/her crib.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2021 @ 1:26pm

        Re: Re:

        Well... 5 year olds aren't even biologically equipped to be responsible humans so the comparison is not really apt, but yeah there seems to be a return to some of the mental and emotional limitations of 5 year olds - minus any positive aspects - once most people embark on a career for public office.

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

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 8 Sep 2021 @ 7:27am

    I know it's not easy to cleanup ALL aisles in the store, but this seems like a quick fix.

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

  • icon
    Federico (profile), 8 Sep 2021 @ 7:53am

    Pending Nominations on the Executive Calendar (Civilian)

    To be fair, it's not like the US Senate seems in a hurry to handle the pending nominations either.

    Pending Nominations on the Executive Calendar (Civilian)
    117th Congress.
    Total: 74 Nominations

    https://www.cop.senate.gov/legislative/nom_cal_civ.htm

    A couple other nominations with the Commerce committee seem to be pending still:

    Nomination of Ms. Carol A. Petsonk, of the District of Columbia, to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation (PN438)
    Nomination of Ms. Karen J. Hedlund, of Colorado, to be a Member of the Surface Transportation Board (PN535)

    https://www.commerce.senate.gov/2021/8/executive-session

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 8 Sep 2021 @ 12:13pm

      Re: Pending Nominations on the Executive Calendar (Civilian)

      He has a lot fewer confirmations than Obama did at this point in 2009, with a similarly slim majority. (There were 60 Democrats then, sort of, as opposed to 50 now, but that was before Democrats eliminated the filibuster for executive nominees, so, then as now, every Democrat had to support a nominee in order to confirm.)

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

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 8 Sep 2021 @ 8:58am

    Biden Has Wasted A Year

    *checks calendar*

    Uhhh...you sure about that, Karl?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2021 @ 10:05am

      Re:

      Indeed... the timeline moved from "just over 7 months" to "almost 8 months" to "a year" in short order.

      And the "wasted" is a bit disingenuous -- He's going to have to fight the senate to get this finished, and likely concluded that the effort would provide a greater return elsewhere. So "diverted effort for" would be a better term.

      All that said, I personally started getting annoyed at this situation back in June.

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

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 6:01am

      Re:

      The article points out that even if he nominated someone today, it would take most of the rest of the year to actually get them confirmed. It also points out that Interim Chairperson Rosenworcel's term ends at the end of the year which will require another nomination and set of confirmation hearings. I had thoughts like yours after reading the title and before reading the article but, the article cleared up the issues for me.

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

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 9:54am

        Re: Re:

        The article points out that even if he nominated someone today, it would take most of the rest of the year to actually get them confirmed.

        By this reasoning, if he'd appointed someone on day one, that would mean he'd wasted four months.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 1:16pm

        Re: Re:

        'It would take a while for a nomination to go through' is an incentive to do it sooner, not an excuse to put it off for later.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 8 Sep 2021 @ 9:07am

    At this point, it seems to be intentional. It doesn't bode well for the future nomination to be someone that gives a rip about The People.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2021 @ 9:11am

    So much time with control of all three parts of the lawmaking process has been wasted we might look back on 2021-2023 as the Democrats proving they're just as impotent as the Republicans trying to repeal Obamacare with the same control.

    But hey Joe Manchin's daughter got rich as fuck by jacking up the price or EpiPens and Kyrsten Sinema disingenuously started her career in the green party but ended up becoming an insufferable centrist since that was her ticket to more power.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 8 Sep 2021 @ 9:15am

    Right... wasted... Republican sabotage across the board with all appointees had nothing to do with it.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2021 @ 9:58am

      Re:

      If he nominated someone and the Republicans attack them for no good reason, like they've done other nominees, that's on them. But not nominating someone entirely is neglecting the duties you should be expected to carry out as president. Obama didn't skip nominating a new supreme court justice because the republicans said they were going to sabotage it. Nominate someone and let the asshole Republicans like John Kennedy embarrass themselves trying to hold Democratic nominees to an absurdly high standard of conduct no one on their side could meet.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 8 Sep 2021 @ 11:35am

      Re:

      Oh no, the Senate minority sabotaged him so badly they stopped him from even nominating anybody!

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Sep 2021 @ 12:46pm

    Oh I can think of a few reasons...

    Nobody I've spoken to anywhere in DC can provide a functional reason why telecom oversight has simply been forgotten.

    Just a teeny tiny bit down the article:

    It's also worth reminding folks that there was no such delay, controversy, or consternation when it came time to give Comcast lobbyist David Cohen (a top Biden fundraiser) a kushy job as Canadian Ambassador.

    At this point I struggle to see this delay as anything but intentional given Cohen's quick nomination and placement as ambassador. A few weeks or maybe a month or two I could see, Biden inherited one hell of a mess to deal with, but letting the FCC stand at a deadlocked 2-2 for this long is downright absurd and it's only getting harder to see it as a bug rather than a feature.

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

    • icon
      Federico (profile), 8 Sep 2021 @ 3:28pm

      Re: Oh I can think of a few reasons...

      Maybe after all the lobbyists have received a cushy ambassadorship, and there's nobody left to complain, the FCC will get a good nomination!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2021 @ 1:29pm

    This is likely just the right and center right of the Democrats (Biden among them) doing what they do best - nothing - since prior Republicans already did the job for them.

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

  • identicon
    Dave, 9 Sep 2021 @ 12:12am

    It's simple. Big Telecom doesn't want those spots filled, as that simply leaves it with one less obstacle between it and its ongoing stratospheric hollow profits. And since the US is a capitalist dictatorship, Big Telecom is always going to get what it wants in that "country".

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

  • icon
    Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 11:26am

    The FCC Chair is empty? Let's draft Mike!

    ...and then, with him gone to Washington, you guys
    could get a little work done in the next few years!

    Right, Karl? ; ]

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


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