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Trump Win Will Reshape FCC

Mari Silbey
11/9/2016

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has relentlessly preached "competition, competition, competition," making him a likely candidate to push back on AT&T's proposed acquisition of Time Warner. And on that one issue, there appears to be common ground with President-elect Donald Trump, who has blasted the deal and threatened to somehow break up earlier media mergers like Comcast's purchase of NBC Universal.

However, Wheeler is now supposed to be on his way out at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , and both he and his Democratic voter block (three to two among Commissioners) have little else in common with the incoming US President. Most notably, Trump is opposed to the net neutrality ruling passed by the FCC in early 2015. The issue may not be high on the President-elect's agenda compared to building a wall on the border with Mexico and repealing Obamacare, but it will be for whoever is appointed next to the FCC Chairman position. (See FCC Vote Shows Net Neutrality Strains and Trump's Impact on Telecom Still Uncertain.)

The Democratic Commissioners have done little to ingratiate themselves with their colleagues across the aisle. Beyond net neutrality, the FCC has voted three to two along party lines regarding municipal broadband regulations (since overturned in court), media ownership and, most recently, Internet privacy. (See Is Wheeler's FCC Legacy Now in Doubt? and FCC Dems Pass Broadband Privacy Rules.)

Meanwhile, the dissenting opinions from Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly have often been rancorous, with little apparent room for compromise between the parties.

As Trump prepares to take office, the FCC must also prepare for a shift in power, and the strain is already showing.

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is still awaiting a Senate vote on her re-nomination. Without one, she will have to step down at the end of the year.

Chairman Wheeler has also not yet announced his own departure date, despite the fact that traditionally the chairman voluntarily leaves office when a new president is elected. Wheeler did say recently that he will work toward a smooth transition at the FCC under a new administration. If he sets a date to leave office, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) has hinted that it could lead to a confirmation vote for Rosenworcel.

Regardless of when and how Wheeler leaves, his successor will be selected by Trump, and the ratio of Commissioners will flip from three-to-two Democratic to three-to-two Republican. According to law, only three commissioners can be of the same political party at any given time, but those who have the majority wield significant power over telecom policy.

Bottom line: The regulatory environment in the US is about to shift dramatically -- in the telecom industry as in everywhere else.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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danielcawrey
danielcawrey
11/10/2016 | 1:01:55 PM
Re: Change in the Airwaves
I certainly will be interested in seeing how this new administration will treat regulatory issues. This is especially true when considering the impact it will have on technology. I think many of us in tech did not expect Trump to win. Now, it's time to go on this ride and see where it goes. 
KBode
KBode
11/10/2016 | 12:27:15 PM
Re: Telecom policy for at least the next 4 years
I've spent the last sixteen years spending 10 hours a day analyzing these folks' every thought. Again, bookmark this and come back in 12 months to confidently tell me I was wrong. Bonus part for me is if I'm wrong, I'll be thrilled. :)
brooks7
brooks7
11/10/2016 | 12:25:56 PM
Re: Telecom policy for at least the next 4 years
 

We have no idea.  The actual person in charge of the Trump Transition team is Chris Christie.  And the thought would have been that Wheeler would have made cable completely unregulated given his past. So until you have actual policies, you have no idea. To claim that you do, you ignore history (like Earl Warren who was thought to be a conservative jurist).

seven

 
KBode
KBode
11/10/2016 | 11:00:04 AM
Re: Telecom policy for at least the next 4 years
"We actually have no idea what is going to happen." 

 

Nonsense. When your transition team leader is incumbent ISP ally and AEI think tanker Jeffrey Eisenach, anybody with even a marginal understanding of this sector should have a fairly sold grasp of precisely what kind of FCC you're going to be getting:

 

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/trump-transition-team-jeffrey-eisenach-229276

 

Might there be some pleasant surprises? Sure. But pro-consumer? Laughable. We can bookmark this conversation and come back to it in about six months, if what I'm saying now seems ludicrous.
brooks7
brooks7
11/10/2016 | 10:37:52 AM
Re: Telecom policy for at least the next 4 years
We actually have no idea what is going to happen.

For example, the only policy that I am aware of is that the President Elect stood in firm opposition to the TWC/AT&T merger and mentioned that it might be time to revisit Comcast/NBC-Universal.

That seems to be pro-consumer at the face of it.

seven

 
KBode
KBode
11/10/2016 | 6:53:37 AM
Re: Telecom policy for at least the next 4 years
Nicely said Brian. I don't think we should pussy foot around the fact that this election just crushed most hope for an FCC that focuses on consumer-friendly policies. I'm already seeing incumbent ISP lobbyists trip over themselves with glee at the fact we're moving back toward the era when the FCC's largest function was to kiss the ring of the nation's biggest providers.
inkstainedwretch
inkstainedwretch
11/9/2016 | 3:21:24 PM
Telecom policy for at least the next 4 years
Few presidential candidates have ever cared about the details of communications policy, choosing to delegate management of the issue to whoever is chairing (or co-chairing) the pertinent committees in the House and Senate.

As a practical matter, this means Greg Walden should now be running communications policy for the country.

But with Trump, that almost certainly won't be the case. Trump's "policies" are based on whether or not someone fawns on him, and the media has not adequately fawned on him. (And whatever differences there might still be between telecom companies and media companies will be irrelevant distinctions.)

So here is how all policy will be made for at least the next four years, telecom or other, and I guarantee this. Whichever companies profess admiration for the President will get what they want. If AT&T simply directs its lobbyists to focus less on policy and more on sycophancy, President Trump will not only not oppose the deal, he will advocate for it. Trump's supporters will see this not as a betrayal of principle, but as an example of his extraordinary deal-making prowess.

Under President Trump, White House politics are going to be modeled on Bridgegate -- policy will become a means to reward or punish. Failure to understand this will mean failure as journalists, analysts, investors and business executives.

--Brian Santo
Alison_ Diana
Alison_ Diana
11/9/2016 | 12:54:30 PM
Change in the Airwaves
As you write so well, Mari, changes are a-coming - at some point. I'm no Trump supporter but I think the election underscores how important it is that government agencies don't become complacent and that those in power within those organizations don't get used to wielding an iron fist. That power can be fleeting. Let's hope, regardless of who ultimately is put in control at the FCC, there's a smooth transition with all parties remembering that ultimately they report to the people of the United States. In other words, let's put egos aside and get on with allowing companies to operate and merge or not merge.
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