from the burning-your-own-house-down dept
We've repeatedly noted how the idea of a healthy and open internet, free from the meddling of incumbent giants like Comcast, is a good thing. We've also noted that until we bring some real competition to bear on the broadband sector, the FCC's inconsistent protection is about the only thing separating you from a hearty "servicing" from Comcast corporation (whether that's usage caps or abysmal service). As such, the nation's net neutrality rules (which are really quite basic and if anything didn't go far enough) have broad, bipartisan support, and holding Comcast accountable is a bipartisan, very popular idea.
And while Trump's Presidential campaign endlessly promised Trump would focus on bringing power back to the people, Trump's new FCC boss Ajit Pai -- a former Verizon lawyer -- effectively represents the complete opposite of that. He's yet to seriously stand up to Comcast or any other ISP, adores media consolidation, wants to kill net neutrality, is incapable of admitting the broadband market lacks competition, and has promised to dismantle the FCC's consumer watchdog functions solely at AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Charter's behest.
On his way out of office, former FCC boss Tom Wheeler had a message for Trump supporters: you need net neutrality protections and healthy broadband competition too.
"The Trump administration campaigned that they are the voice of the forgotten," Wheeler said in a phone interview with Ars yesterday. "Well you know, the half-dozen major carriers [lobbying against FCC regulations] are hardly forgotten."
The people who are forgotten are the "two-thirds of consumers in America who have one or fewer broadband choices," Wheeler said. "Where are those choices most limited? In the areas where Donald Trump got the strongest response, in rural areas, outside of major cities. If indeed this is an administration that is speaking for those that feel disenfranchised, that representation has to start with saying, 'we need to make sure you have a fast, fair, and open Internet because otherwise you will not be able to connect to the 21st century.'"
In many of these states, convincing people to vote against their own best interests has become an art form. Like in Tennessee, where Representative Marsha Blackburn has allowed companies like Comcast to write horrible laws protecting giant corporations from public accountability (the end result for the consumer should be obvious). Again: improving broadband networks shouldn't be partisan. Ensuring that these networks remain healthy and open shouldn't be partisan. Keeping Comcast from destroying level competitive playing fields should not be partisan. Yet here we are.
For his part, Wheeler responded to indications that the incoming administration intends to kill net neutrality and neuter the FCC with sadness and alarm:
"I think it would be tragic," Wheeler said of taking away the FCC's competition and consumer protection authority. "This is tragic for the American consumer and the competitive marketplace."
"We’re talking about a handful of companies who are lobbying for their own self-interest, and trying to say to the new commission, 'you need to listen to us, not to consumers, not to a competitive marketplace, not to those who could be affected by a network where we act as gatekeepers,'" Wheeler said. "And if they are successful, that will put in jeopardy tens of thousands of other companies that rely on open networks and millions of consumers."
Historically, most FCC bosses paid empty lip service to the competition problem in the broadband sector. Many, like former FCC boss turned top cable lobbyist Michael Powell, went comically out of their way to pretend the market was perfectly healthy. While his solutions were sometimes imperfect, Wheeler was at least capable of admitting that the core issue in the telecom sector is a lack of competition. A lack of competition not only in the last mile, but in the very cable boxes and closed hardware at the heart of the industry's control.
In contrast, Pai's entire platform rests on the idea that the real problem in the broadband sector is that government has been too hard on companies like Comcast and AT&T, and that these companies need less oversight than ever before. Of course, that kind of thinking is what helped create the Comcast and the pricey, annoying broadband and cable sector most consumers know and love today. Believing that dismantling the only government agency to stand up to Comcast this decade is going to somehow fix everything is precisely the kind of thinking that gave us Comcast in the first place.