GOP Telecom Maneuver To Cripple The Biden FCC
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 wants to target Section 230 because it wants to stop social media giants from being able to police 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 Simington in the full Senate, or the Democrats finding creative and clever ways to tactically thwart it, 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 tactical responses to threats like this, have largely been mute to the threat, assuming they see it looming 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.
Author: Karl Bode
|Get $5 Off All Apparel In The Techdirt Gear Store! Sale Ends Tomorrow (2020-11-28)
|Get $5 off all Techdirt apparel before the saleendstomorrownight Its the second day of our storewide Black Friday weekend sale in the Techdirt Gear store on Threadless! Weve knocked $5 off the price of standard face masks and all apparel including the popular trio of Nerd Mentality Nerd Mentality and Nerd Harder as well as our classic Techdirt logo gear and all our other designs The sale ends Sund..
|NZ Supreme Court Gives A Mixed Bag Extradition Ruling To Kim Dotcom; Extradition Still Alive, But He Can Raise Procedural Issues (2020-11-03)
|Its been almost a decade since US and New Zealand forces did a silly made-for-Hollywood and possibly by Hollywood raid of Kim Dotcoms home in New Zealand for the crime of running a cloud storage service that some people used for infringing works Since that time Dotcom has been fighting extradition charges to the US The case has taken many crazy twists and turns including the US government seizing ..
|Daily Deal: The Complete Google Cloud Course Bundle (2020-11-05)
|The Complete Google Cloud Course Bundle has 2 video courses and 8 eBooks to help you master one of the most powerful cloud platforms out there Youll learn about TensorFlow machine learning AI data analysis and much more Its on sale for $30 Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt The products featured d..
|Twitch’s No Good, Very Bad Time Continues: Part 1 (2020-11-18)
|Im beginning to wonder if the folks that run Twitch are secretly attempting to commit corporate suicide The past several weeks have seen the popular streaming platform embroiled in controversy It began when in response to the RIAA labels DMCA attacks on streamers Twitch took the unprecedented step to simply nuke a zillion hours of recorded content without warning its creators In the wake of that t..
|Trumpland Apparently Just Forgot About Its Manufactured TikTok Hysteria (2020-11-12)
|Weve repeatedly made it pretty clear that President Trumps effort to ban TikTok is little more than a performative xenophobic idiotic mess For one the effort appears more focused on trying to get Trump-allied Oracle a new hosting deal than any serious concern about consumer privacy and security Two banning a teen dancing and lip syncing app does jack shit in terms of thwarting China or protecting .. Trumpland Apparently Just Forgot About Its Manufactured TikTok Hysteria
|Kentucky State Police ‘Warrior Mindset’ Training Presentation Quotes Robert E. Lee, Adolph Hitler (2020-11-05)
|Law enforcement training is sketchy stuff We didnt get to where we are today without telling a blend of do-gooders and bullies that its the public whos wrong and the blue line warriors who are right The us vs them mindset seems to have accelerated in recent years urged on by overheated rhetoric about criminals outgunning the cops despite historically-low crime rates and the federal governments wil..
|Content Moderation Case Study: Google’s Photo App Tags Photos Of Black People As ‘Gorillas’ (2015) (2020-12-04)
|Summary: In May 2015 Google rolled out its Google Photos service This service allowed users to store their images in Googles cloud and share them with other users Unlike some other services Googles photo service provided unlimited storage for photos under a certain resolution making it an attractive replacement for other paid services Unfortunately it soon became apparent the rollout may have outp..
|This Week In Techdirt History: November 22nd - 28th (2020-11-28)
|Five Years Ago This week in 2015 the attacks on encryption continued with David Camerons former speechwriter publishing an incredibly dumb article in the Telegraph and Dianne Feinstein contradicting her month-old fearmongering about cybersecurity with demands for encryption backdoors while a supposed ISIS encryption manual that people had been freaking out about turned out to be a guide for journa..
|Somehow, 5G Paranoia Is Only Getting Dumber (2020-12-04)
|Weve made it repeatedly clear that 5G now exists in some kind of alternate reality untethered from this complicated mortal plane One one side youve got telecom giants hardware vendors and some politicians busy pretending that 5G is a revolutionary game changer something you just sprinkle around to create near Utopian smart cities smart vehicles and miracle cancer cures On the other side youve got .. Somehow, 5G Paranoia Is Only Getting Dumber
|Techdirt Podcast Episode 263: Is The Techlash Over? (2020-11-18)
|This week weve got another panel discussion for you with Mike joining Georgetown Law fellow Gigi Sohn and panel moderator Zach Graves of the Lincoln Network both also former podcast guests at the Reboot 2020 conference to discuss the techlash the public opinion backlash against big tech and try to figure out what exactly it is and where its going in the future Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundc..