from the nice-democracy-you've-got-there dept
We’ve noted at length how the GOP is rushing this week to appoint Trump ally Nathan Simington to the FCC. Simington, you’ll recall, wrote Trump’s ridiculous executive order targeting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the essential law that protects freedom of expression and innovation on the internet. The bumbling attack is necessary, you’re told, to “fix” the social media “censorship” of Conservatives that doesn’t actually exist. In other words, an unqualified appointment pushing an idiotic solution to a nonexistent problem that actually creates new, unnecessary headaches.
Simington you’ll recall is slated to replace Mike O’Rielly, the Republican FCC Commissioner fired last August by Trump for some timid statements suggesting that Trump’s plan wasn’t a great idea (an argument supported by a massive bipartisan coalition of experts) and the FCC lacks the proper authority to enforce. O’Rielly’s term is up at the end of the year, so the GOP is rushing to gain a quick Simington approval in both committee and the broader Senate. The committee vote sped through process this morning along party lines, with the GOP making nary a peep about Simington’s lack of any real qualifications for the post.
Attention now shifts to a full Senate vote on Simington.
It gets lost in analysis, but the GOP is threatening Section 230 to bully social media giants into not policing disinformation and race-baiting bullshit, a cornerstone of modern party power. But given the gambit’s unlikely success at the FCC in the wake of a Trump loss and Ajit Pai exit, the 230 stuff has almost become a distraction now, at least as it pertains to the FCC.
The goal for McConnell has shifted toward miring the Biden FCC in partisan gridlock to prevent it from being able to reverse unpopular Trump-era policies. Should Simington be approved, the agency would sit at two Republican and two Democratic Commissioners heading into the new year. I’ve spoken to several consumer groups and insiders familiar with the process who say this is the likely GOP strategy. But it was further highlighted in a letter by Grover Norquist (yes, he’s still around) to Mitch McConnell.
Norquist’s right wing 501(c)(4) organization, Americans for Taxpayer Reform (ATR), is a telecom-industry favorite, frequently used in policy debates to target things AT&T and Comcast don’t like, from functional, adult oversight of the broadband sector, to diabolical plan by many communities to build better, faster broadband networks. Norquist’s letter spells out to McConnell (who of course already knew this) that the Simington appointment would be a great way to thwart the Biden FCC from doing much of anything. Of course it’s phrased in such a way to suggest Norquist and friends are only interested in genuine, good faith bipartisanship:
“Americans for Tax Reform urges you to confirm Nathan Simington to the FCC before the end of this year,? Americans for Taxpayer Reform president and conservative operative Grover Norquist wrote to McConnell. ?Simington?s confirmation now would ensure a 2-2 FCC at the outset of a Biden Presidency. The FCC could continue to pursue important initiatives on a bipartisan basis, but it would be blocked from jamming through partisan initiatives?whether those involve profligate spending or an anti-growth agenda.”
Of course if you’ve tracked the modern “own the libs” GOP for any more than thirty seconds, you already know bipartisan solutions aren’t what they’re interested in. Most tech policy subjects, like net neutrality or community broadband aren’t partisan and have broad, bipartisan support among U.S. consumers. But the GOP, and countless industries like telecom, figured out years ago if you frame them as partisan anyway via disinformation and rightwing news outlets, you can easily drum up animosity among the misinformed, stall consensus, and thereby, derail meaningful reform or constraints on corporate power.
For telecom, Simington’s appointment has several advantages. One, it appoints an unqualified sycophant to the FCC who’ll spend much of his time fixated on “reining in big tech,” while ignoring a parade of bad behavior by “big telecom.” That’s well in line for a telecom industry that has spent several years exploiting legitimate grievances about tech giants to its own tactical and regulatory advantage without most folks really understanding or noticing.
Two, the 2-2 split gives telecom and the GOP leverage to either block the appointment of a Biden FCC boss with any spine, or block the appointment of anybody whatsoever, effectively crippling the agency for at least two years. That means no reversal of the net neutrality repeal, no restoration of media consolidation rules, and probably not even any meaningful Covid policies (like barring usage caps or preventing ISPs from kicking struggling Americans offline) if they upset AT&T, Comcast, or Verizon in any meaningful way. That will create voter anger at Biden for “not doing more,” a tactic you’ll see played out across most regulatory agencies as the GOP shifts from mindless Trump sycophancy back to corporatist obstructionism.
Of course the GOP (and telecom) will argue that this most certainly isn’t what’s happening, as if the party that used dead and fake people to support shitty, unpopular FCC policies is above such tactics. But it’s happening all the same. Like Americans for Tax Reform, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is pushing the talking point (likely provided them in a .pdf by AT&T and USTelecom) that they’re doing this to save the economy from harm (which is complete and total nonsense):
“FCC Republican Brendan Carr this week appeared on Fox Business and said, “It would be very valuable to get Simington across the finish line to help forestall what really would be billions of dollars worth of economic damage that I think a Democrat FCC would look to jam through from day one in January or February.” (Despite Carr’s claims, the Obama-era Title II regulation and net neutrality rules did not slow down investments in broadband networks, but major ISPs have cut back on network spending since the Pai-led FCC deregulated the industry and repealed the rules.)”
Whether it succeeds depends on GOP lawmakers suddenly growing a spine and voting against a terrible and unqualified Trump-chosen FCC Commissioner in the full Senate, or the Democrats finding creative and tactically-clever ways to kill or stall the vote, both of which would challenge recent historical precedent. “Crippling the nation’s top telecom regulator with partisan gridlock during a public health crisis is bad” is messaging that pretty much writes itself, but most Democrats, seemingly often incapable of any creative and aggressive tactical responses to threats like this, have (with a few minor exceptions) been silent about the threat, assuming they see it coming at all.
But the ploy also hinges on the GOP being able to hold the Senate via the Georgia run off races, which is no sure bet. Either way, the modern GOP continues to show its primary party platform is to repeatedly proclaim that government can never, ever work, then set about immediately sabotaging any effort that might just test that theory. Given his very first fundraiser was held by a Comcast lobbyist, there’s certainly no guarantee a Biden administration will be tough on telecom. But it’s also pretty clear “big telecom” doesn’t want to risk his administration appointing anybody that might just disrupt the broken status quo and reverse four straight years of anti-consumer Trump policy.
Filed Under: fcc, gridlock, joe biden, nathan simington, net neutrality, regulations, section 230