from the the-house-always-wins dept
This week we noted how the Democratic party had introduced a new two-page bill that would simply give the FCC even clearer authority to restore net neutrality. Of course the bill won’t pass this corrupt Congress, was barely noticed in the summer heat, and couldn’t be implemented anyway because the telecom industry and GOP have successfully blocked the appointment of Gigi Sohn, gridlocking the agency.
Still, the faintest idea we might revisit net neutrality still sent a shiver up the spine of telecom companies, who got right to work pretending that base levels of competent oversight of their industry would be utterly apocalyptic for broadband investment:
“Net Neutrality may be a mixed bag, but common carrier regulation would inhibit competition, private investment and innovation, and further confound the complex task of eradicating of the digital divide,” said Eric Slee, VP of government affairs for WISPA, the wireless internet service providers association.
Slee says “the specter of open access, service and rate regulation, among other Title II mandates, would result in fewer solutions and deployment growth in the very areas most in need of it.”
I’ve probably spilled more ink on this subject than anybody alive, and have pointed out this claim is provable bullshit countless times. It never seems to matter. The telecom lobby has spent decades slowly lobotomizing U.S. telecom regulators. Any time there’s the faintest conversation about reversing direction (having marginally competent regulatory oversight), they all run screaming to the fainting couches.
Top cable industry lobbyist Michael Powell, formerly head of the FCC, got much of the current Title II debate rolling back in 2002 when he reclassified cable broadband as an “information service.” This opened the door to a massive era of broadband deregulation Powell and friends insisted would usher forth an immense new wave of broadband competition.
If you’ve checked your broadband bill or, oh, spent thirty seconds in reality, you may have noticed that this utopian broadband landscape never materialized. And with Congress making the faintest hint that it wants to revisit the discussion, Powell’s back again predicting regulatory doomsday:
“The case is particularly thin to justify the famed ‘nuclear option’ to reclassify carriers under Title II utility regulation which empowers the FCC with the authority to go big on new regulation.”
It’s all so comical, boring, and stupid at this point I struggle to put any of it into words. The FCC doesn’t “go big” on anything, much less telecom regulation. The idea that this FCC would ever radically improve consumer protection, seriously challenge monopoly power, or impose broadband rate regulation is an absolute joke. Even if it wanted to it can’t because telecom lobbyists are gridlocking appointments with the full throated support of the GOP.
The U.S. FCC is a feckless pile of damp cardboard on consumer protection. You couldn’t even find me an instance where a current Democratic FCC official has clearly acknowledged telecom monopolies exist (83 million Americans live under one) and are bad, much less proposed any serious solutions to the problem. And even if they did, the telecom industry, fused at the hip with the GOP, would kill those proposals immediately.
The telecom lobby has engaged in decades of grotesque behavior to keep this broken ass status quo intact, from using fake and dead people to generate bogus support for bad policy, to ghost running sleazy smear campaigns on the FCC appointment of popular, qualified reformers, ensuring the agency lacks the voting majority to implement even basic policies with broad public support.
Any time anybody makes the slightest suggestion that slightly stronger FCC oversight might be a nice contrast to three straight decades of kissing monopoly ass, the telecom sector has an absolute hissy fit. And, nine times out of ten, they get absolutely everything they ask for. Which is why U.S. consumers pay some of the highest prices in the world for slow, spotty service and atrocious customer service.
There’s no mystery to any of this. It’s not a debate. The U.S. is comically corrupt, and policy leaders refuse to meaningfully address a broken market dominated by regional telecom monopolies (you can read all about it in my new report for Techdirt and the Copia Institute). The best we get are these sad little proxy stage plays over things like net neutrality, and even then… the house always wins.