Biden 'Competition Council' Urges Biden FCC To Do Things It Can't Do Because Biden Hasn't Fully Staffed It Yet

from the circular-dysfunction dept

Back in July, the Biden administration signed an executive order creating a new "competition council" tasked with taking a closer look at competition and monopoly issues in various business sectors. One of those sectors was telecom, which remains dominated by a handful of politically powerful regional monopolies, resulting in decades of spotty broadband service, high prices, and terrible customer service.

Back in July, the council offered several bits of advice as to how this could be fixed, including forcing ISPs to provide more clear pricing data to government (allowing policymakers to clearly illustrate the harms of regional monopolies), forcing ISPs to be more transparent with consumers about sneaky fees and pricing, and the restoration of the FCC's consumer protection authority stripped away during the Trump-era net neutrality repeal:

"(i) adopting through appropriate rulemaking 'Net Neutrality' rules similar to those previously adopted under title II of the Communications Act of 1934 (Public Law 73-416, 48 Stat. 1064, 47 U.S.C. 151 et seq.), as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, in "Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet," 80 Fed. Reg. 19738 (Apr. 13, 2015);"

Last week the council held its inaugural meeting, including eight cabinet members and the leaders of seven independent agencies, including the FCC and acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel. As it was designed to do, the meeting focused on ways the administration can lower prices, shore up competition, and break down monopolistic logjams across business sectors:

"In the Council’s inaugural meeting, NEC Director Brian Deese (Council Chair) emphasized that the President’s competition agenda is core to the Administration’s plan to Build Back Better and critical to keeping prices low for American consumers, spurring innovation, and allowing small businesses to compete on a level playing field."

But for risk of beating a dead horse, the FCC still can't actually do any of the things the counsel asks of it because the Biden team still hasn't picked permanent agency bosses for either the FCC or NTIA.

Without a permanent boss and 3-2 voting majority, the FCC can't really do much of anything controversial to shore up telecom competition issues, much to the relief of sector giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. Mired in partisan gridlock (quite intentionally by the Trump administration and the speedy appointment of Nathan Simington at the end of his term), it can't do much else of any controversy either, whether that involves media consolidation or disaster preparedness. Worse, Rosenworcel's tenure ends at the end of the year, so if this apathy continues there's a chance the agency could see a 2-1 GOP majority in the new year, leaving it even further incapable of any real reform.

I've spent months talking to folks around DC asking why team Biden hasn't staffed its telecom regulators eight months into his first term, and nobody has a reasonable explanation. While there's clearly a lot going on, the administration wasn't too busy to give top Comcast lobbyist David Cohen a cushy job as the U.S. Canadian Ambassador. At this rate, by the time a permanent FCC boss is seated, a full year of policy time will have been wasted, which doesn't exactly scream "urgency" when it comes to telecom monopoly, media consolidation, or other reform.

The apathy on telecom and FCC staffing is an odd clash with the selection of antitrust-buster Lina Khan at the FTC. But it kind of fits the current DC obsession with fixating exclusively on "big tech," while "big telecom" engages in much of the same (or sometimes worse) behavior. At some point you have to wonder if the apathy on telecom and media reform isn't a screw up but an active policy choice.

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Filed Under: broadband, competition, fcc, joe biden, ntia, white house


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  1. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 14 Sep 2021 @ 5:11am

    Big Tech vs. Big Telecom

    At some point you have to wonder if the apathy on telecom and media reform isn't a screw up but an active policy choice.

    I would say that it definitely is a policy choice that has to do with campaign contributions.

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

  2. identicon
    Bobvious, 14 Sep 2021 @ 6:24am

    Come on Joe

    Quit Biden your time and get on with the job at hand.

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2021 @ 6:56am

    how do these people get the jobs? they dont appear to have the brains of rockin horses, yet still get paid a fortune even when coming out with rockin horse shit comments!

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2021 @ 7:04am

    independent

    " Biden 'Competition Council' Urges Biden FCC "

    ...uhh, FCC is supposed to be an "indepentent" Federal agency.

    that concept and Congressional dictate are obviously nonsense in the real world.

    those with deep faith in the wonderful American Regulatory State badly need a reality check.

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

  5. icon
    Thad (profile), 14 Sep 2021 @ 9:26am

    Re: Big Tech vs. Big Telecom

    Makes sense. It's not like the Biden campaign's top ten campaign contributors included Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook or anything.

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

  6. icon
    katsai (profile), 14 Sep 2021 @ 9:55am

    Is it too late to get Tom Wheeler back? He was the first halfway decent FCC chair in my memory.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2021 @ 10:25am

    Re: Big Tech vs. Big Telecom

    I think it has to do with the media conglomerate connection as a key to power. "Big Tech" has the impudence to be interactive and dynamic instead of leading them to where they want them.

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2021 @ 3:14pm

    Re: Come on Joe

    What job?

    Deese nuts.

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2021 @ 3:16pm

    Re: independent

    Oh, they are meant to exist in a fucking vacuum?

    "Independent" means no one is meant to give them direct orders. Not sure which Planet America you're from, though.

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

  10. identicon
    Pixelation, 14 Sep 2021 @ 7:23pm

    Biden is getting quite old so, it isn't much of a surprise he has an issue with his staff...

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

  11. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Sep 2021 @ 7:48pm

    If you look WAY back there you can just barely see it...

    At some point you have to wonder if the apathy on telecom and media reform isn't a screw up but an active policy choice.

    That point was after the first couple of months I'd say or at most right up until congressional fluffer and definitely-not-a-lobbyist-just-ask-Comcast David Cohen was given the position of canadian ambassador.

    I'm all for giving someone the benefit of the doubt when they're thrown into a complicated situation where they've got a lot of things to suddenly juggle but at this point it is only becoming harder and harder to see leaving the FCC in a crippled state as accidental.

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

  12. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 14 Sep 2021 @ 8:00pm

    FCC RIP

    Let the FCC RIP. All it is, is a one-stop target for regulatory capture anyway.

    I think we should give the telcoms and ISP's what they say they want: effective regulation from three dozen different departments of government. FTC for billing and marketing, SEC for monopolization, HUD and BIA and USDA for broadband coverage, and etc.

    At least they couldn't one-stop capture the regulation anymore.

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

  13. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Sep 2021 @ 10:21pm

    Re: FCC RIP

    Nah, you want to really twist the knife leave it up to the individual states, let them deal with fifty different sets of regulations and rules and the need to buy off enough politicians in every single one of them.

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


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