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The FCC Under Trump - A Long Shot

Larry Press

Tom Wheeler surprised us as head of the Federal Communication Commission — might Trump?

In May 2013, President Obama picked Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communication Commission. The Internet community generally disapproved because Wheeler had been a lobbyist for both the cellular and cable industries and a major contributor to the Obama campaign. Internet service providers AT&T and Comcast lauded the appointment and a few months later, the President was spotted playing golf with Brian Roberts, chief executive of Comcast.

It looked like a Washington insider deal.

But after looking at Wheeler's blog posts and his service on a Presidential commission, I speculated that Wheeler might be a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and, by August 2013, we had mounting evidence that Wheeler was, in fact, acting in the public interest, not that of the ISP industry.

Now that Donald Trump has been elected President, the Internet community is understandably worried. There is speculation that Trump will reverse Wheeler's stance on network neutrality and he has chosen Jeffrey Eisenach, an (often paid) oponent of regulation as his telecommunication "point man." (You can see his testimony on net neutrality here).

That seems consistent with Trump's promise to get rid of red tape and regulation and let big business do its thing, but using the words "Trump" and "consistent" in the same sentence is oxymoronic. He also promises to fight the elites in support of ordinary (white, Christian) people. That would seem to call for pro-competitive measures to weaken the grip of the Internet service giants.

Tom Wheeler surprised industry insiders by supporting net neutrality, raising the speed used to define "broadband," fighting to curb state legislature power to stop municipal broadband, pushing for a standard TV-interface box combining the functions of today's set-top boxes and Internet interfaces, favoring sharing of Federal spectrum and scrutinizing transit Internet agreements.

Will Donald Trump surprise us and work to make the American Internet Great Again?

(I doubt it, but, if Trump can be elected president, anything is possible).

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.comVisit Page
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Share your comments

Anything can happen days Anthony Rutkowski  –  Nov 14, 2016 7:54 AM PST

Anything can happen days

Helpful observations. As you summarize, anything is possible.  Hopefully others provide their views as we collectively watch and endure the Ship of State careening about.

The good news is that the FCC historically has been one of the most resilient agencies in Washington because it provides the underpinning for one of the most essential infrastructures of the nation. Over the decades for the past 112 years since the need for a Federal communications agency arrived on Washington's table, responsible agencies have emerged, expanded, and evolved.  The FCC is also an independent agency beholden to Congress, so it enjoys some insulation against severe political winds.  And lastly, the nation’s legal system and that perennial Republican FCC K-Street anchor established by former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley provide some stability.

If the past is any guide, the newly elected ideologues realize they need the K-Street industry experts to do much of anything.  After a turbulent first year, the policies, powers, and money of the FCC and other Federal agencies change.  NetNeutrality, Title II expansion of authority, and new privacy requirements seem already on the hit list. The FCC’s essential characteristics inure to its benefit, and the result is generally an expansion of its roles.

Other agencies that have grown in recent years to be part of the Federal communications regulatory ecosystem – particularly those of the Executive Branch – are more vulnerable.  The FTC, DOJ, NIST and NTIA in DOC seem high on the list, although NTIA is a kind of FCC counterpoise in the Executive Branch that includes frequency management functions.  How the DHS agglomeration sorts out in all of this is anyone’s guess.  The State Dept as always is caught in the middle, and the result is sometimes bizarre.  The Intelligence Community should do well, if they can be left alone without political interference to do the analytical jobs they do well and provide independent insight free from manipulation by ideologues.

dissing Trump Geoff Goedde  –  Nov 16, 2016 4:33 AM PST

The opposite of Trump was "aiding and abetting" criminality.  Is that what you were for, Larry?

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