Wrong and stupid: Trump's Twitter tiff ends O'Rielly's wireless run

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly has worked to free up critical midband spectrum for 5G. Now he doesn't have a job, reportedly because he disagreed with Trump's campaign against Twitter.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

August 4, 2020

4 Min Read
Wrong and stupid: Trump's Twitter tiff ends O'Rielly's wireless run

President Trump fired FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly because he won't support the president's campaign against Twitter.

This comes as a pretty big blow to the wireless industry because O'Rielly has worked for years on several major issues in the space, including releasing critical midband spectrum for 5G.

Not surprisingly, this all has generated plenty of commentary in DC.

"Mike O'Rielly has been a tireless leader in bringing new spectrum to market to meet growing consumer demand including CBRS and C-band," Preston Padden, a communications policy consultant and former lobbyist for The Walt Disney Co. and the C-band Alliance, told Light Reading. "The withdrawal of his renomination looks like petty small mindedness because on one issue, Section 230, he took a principled stand rather than genuflecting to the White House."

Section 230 is the part of the Communications Decency Act of 1934 that Trump wants the FCC to re-examine. Trump has said he wants to prevent social media platforms from engaging in political censorship against conservatives. In reality, Trump wants to stop Twitter from calling out his lies.

"I understand this nom was pulled because @mikeofcc wasn't supportive of Trump's illegal & unconstitutional request that @FCC interpret #Section 230," wrote Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy and a former FCC official under President Obama, on – where else? – Twitter. "Give Mike props – he stuck to his principles even as it may have cost him another term as Commissioner."

O'Rielly's fellow Republican commissioners, Ajit Pai and Brendan Carr, have remained silent on the topic on Twitter. So have the agency's two Democrats, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks. Even O'Rielly's representatives are awfully quiet.

As noted by Multichannel News, O'Rielly was originally nominated to the FCC by President Obama in 2013. He was sworn in for a second term in 2015 and was on his way to a third term when Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe placed a hold O'Rielly's nomination over the Ligado debate. The FCC voted unanimously to approve Ligado's proposal to use its spectrum holdings for 5G, which has sparked widespread opposition from a number of officials in and around the Defense Department.

But citing unnamed sources, SpaceNews reported that the White House's decision to pull back O'Rielly's nomination was not because of Ligado but instead because of Section 230.

As noted by Deadline, O'Rielly took a very clear position on the Section 230 debate. "Like it or not, the First Amendment's protections apply to corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making," O'Rielly said. "I shudder to think of a day in which the Fairness Doctrine [FCC policies introduced in 1949 guiding broadcast TV spectrum license holders] could be reincarnated for the Internet, especially at the ironic behest of so-called free speech 'defenders.'"

According to Deadline, O'Rielly said that his remarks were not directed at Trump or White House officials but instead toward "certain opportunists elsewhere who claim to be the First Amendment's biggest heroes but only come to its defense when convenient and constantly shift its meaning to fit their current political objectives."

Regardless, White House appointees serve at the pleasure of the president. And Trump – as other presidents – has made it clear that White House employees need to support his views. Thus, expect an O'Rielly replacement at the FCC who would join Carr in supporting Trump's position.

But the idea that the government, through the FCC, should censor platforms like Twitter is just wrong. O'Rielly knows it and so should every other rational person. And the fact that O'Rielly is getting fired because Trump got mad at Twitter is particularly wrong. It's also stupid.

Finally, it's noteworthy that the industry that O'Rielly did so much for, the wireless industry, has nothing public to say about all this. After all, executives in the space need to keep Trump happy so they can continue to get massive tax cuts, help against Huawei and China and federal money for 5G and 6G buildouts.

It may be no coincidence that the FCC this week opened up the Section 230 issue for public comment. This would be an excellent opportunity for companies and individuals in the wireless industry who have benefited significantly from O'Rielly's efforts to stand next to him on an important topic.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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