Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

An Interview With Ex-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Professor Susan Crawford spoke with Tom Wheeler at Harvard Law School:

In the Trump administration, people are talking about stripping regulatory power from the FCC, and essentially taking the agency apart (including moving jurisdiction over internet access to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC]). “Modernizing” the FCC is the lingo being used. What’s your thought about that?

It’s a fraud. The FTC doesn’t have rule-making authority. They’ve got enforcement authority and their enforcement authority is whether or not something is unfair or deceptive. And the FTC has to worry about everything from computer chips to bleach labeling. Of course, carriers want [telecom issues] to get lost in that morass. This was the strategy all along.

So it doesn’t surprise me that the Trump transition team — who were with the American Enterprise Institute and basically longtime supporters of this concept — comes in and says, “Oh, we oughta do away with this.” It makes no sense to get rid of an expert agency and to throw these issues to an agency with no rule-making power that has to compete with everything else that’s going on in the economy, and can only deal with unfair or deceptive practices.

Because we’re talking about one sixth of the economy. More importantly, we’re dealing with the network that connects six sixths of the economy.

Wheeler’s response to Crawford’s question about new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai does not paint Pai in a positive light:

The FCC is a five-person commission and the chairman sets the agenda, but there’s four other commissioners and it takes three votes to do anything. When I came in, I set up with each commissioner a date every other week — an hour for the two of us just to sit without staff and talk. For the last 18, 24 months [Pai] canceled every meeting. It’s hard to work for consensus when you won’t sit down with each other.

Relentless, childish obstruction is a shitty way to govern.