With Donald Trump now the President elect, all eyes in telecom have turned to what happens now in regards to FCC telecom enforcement generally, and our shiny new net neutrality rules specifically. Trump has proclaimed he opposes net neutrality, despite making it abundantly clear he doesn’t appear to actually know what it is (he appears to falsely believe it has something to do with the fairness doctrine). As such most people believe he’ll work to gut the current FCC, which as we’ve noted has, for the first time in arguably twenty years or so, actually been doing a few things to actually help broadband consumers and sector competition.
Trump is said to have appointed Jeffrey Eisenach, “a crusader against regulation,” who has consistently criticized current FCC boss Tom Wheeler, to handle his telecom transition team:
In 2012 Eisenach arrived as a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute — and in that role, he’s been an outspoken antagonist of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and his policies. In his research and advocacy, often backed by tech and telecom interests, he’s slammed the Obama administration’s efforts on net neutrality, broadband investment and more.
As such, any newly-configured FCC is more than a little likely to consist of the kind of revolving door regulators that either will move to strip back net neutrality protections (difficult but not impossible), or (potentially more likely) simply refuse to enforce them. ISPs are already making it clear they see an opportunity to role back “onerous FCC regulations” at the behest of giant ISPs — likely in the form of a complete Communications Act rewrite courtesy of the Republican-controlled House and Senate.
This enthusiasm includes former Congressman Rick Boucher, who at one point in time was a fantastic crusader for fair use rights, but has since made his living playing parrot for the telecom industry over at Sidley Austin, a law firm that effectively acts as an AT&T policy arm. Not wasting any time, an e-mail dropped into Techdirt’s inbox this morning by the Internet Innovation Alliance (also part of AT&T’s telecom policy efforts), featuring Boucher proclaiming that it was time to “return to the bi-partisan light regulatory oversight of broadband”:
The first order of business for the new FCC should be a return to the bi-partisan light regulatory oversight of broadband launched during the Clinton administration. The decision to treat broadband as an information service unleashed a wave of investment in internet infrastructure that enabled our communications network to become the envy of the world. That progress has been undermined by the Commission’s decision to treat broadband as a telecommunications service with regulatory requirements designed for the monopoly era of rotary telephones. Few regulatory changes would do more to promote investment and a stronger U.S. economy than a return to the time-honored light regulatory regime for broadband.
If you’re playing along at home and don’t speak telecom sock-puppet, Boucher’s effectively arguing Trump should back off the FCC’s recent decision to reclassify ISPs as common carriers (which put the FCC on the proper legal footing to enforce net neutrality) and return to the FCC’s earlier mantra of going out of its way to avoid doing much of anything that would hinder incumbent ISP profits. That’s unfortunate, given that this was a period during which we pretended that if we let ISPs dictate all regulation they would magically deploy amazing new competitive broadband networks.
Generally speaking, most of you should be able to see how well that worked out for us based on, well, looking at Comcast or your over-priced and slow AT&T DSL line. Meanwhile pay TV providers like Dish, rather unsurprisingly, made it clear they see this being a possible end to net neutrality:
— Shalini Ramachandran (@shalini) November 9, 2016
That said, it’s worth reminding people that while Democrats were already waffling on the net neutrality rules they helped pass (Clinton was expected to be overly cozy with telecom in her own right), a Trump FCC is likely to be notably, significantly worse for broadband consumers and net neutrality. The FCC’s recent decision to pass some basic privacy protections for broadband users is certain to face turbulence, and efforts to bring competition to the cable box and the broadband sector in general will be all-but-certainly derailed.
In other words there’s every indication that we’re headed back in time — to a bygone era not that long ago where folks like AT&T and Comcast dictated policy to FCC Democrats and Republicans alike, resulting in a weak-kneed regulator whose sole purpose was to dumbly nod each and every time AT&T, Verizon, Comcast or Charter made a policy proposal.