Thursday, November 24, 2016

Filling the Swamp: Trump's Plan to Turn Over the FCC to Telecom Industry Insiders

One of Donald Trump's top tech policy advisers has a plan: Do away with the main agency that protects the rights of internet users and media consumers in America.

You heard that right. Mark Jamison, who Trump chose to help oversee the tech-policy transition team, thinks that getting rid of the Federal Communications Commission would be a good thing for this country.

"Most of the original motivations for having an FCC have gone away," Jamison wrote last month, claiming that a heavily consolidated media marketplace would discipline itself to benefit ordinary people.

He's dead wrong.

Over the years, we at Free Press have had our beefs with the agency. But that's because the FCC was falling down on the job of protecting internet users and promoting media competition, diversity and localism.

We've urged the agency to step up on behalf of the public interest to safeguard a free and open internet, to protect the privacy of internet users against prying service providers, and to promote market competition and affordability so more people can get online. When massive media companies have decided to become even more massive through acquisition, we've urged the agency to block the harmful mergers.

And just as the FCC, under Chairman Tom Wheeler, has come closer to meeting these standards, we're facing a wholesale reversal from an incoming administration that seems more intent on doing the bidding of industry lobbyists and their surrogates.

Jamison joins Jeffrey Eisenach on Trump's tech transition team. Both have deep financial ties to the telecom industry. They've spent time at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where so-called scholars do double-time as corporate lobbyists and consultants, rarely disclosing their conflicts of interest.

For its part, AEI has received support from the AT&T Foundation — the phone giant's charitable arm. Previous clients Eisenach has consulted for include Verizon, which had him on its payroll as he testified before Congress against issues like Net Neutrality. The New York Times made Eisenach the poster child for undue corporate influence over policymaking in a lengthy investigative piece that exposed his many conflicts.

Jamison directs the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida where he's extolled the virtues of competition-crushing media mergers as innovative and good for consumers. The Center doesn't make public its full list of corporate sponsors, but its advocacy for every takeover involving AT&T is a good clue.

Trump's tech-policy agenda is pretty much a blank slate — meaning these two industry operatives will have free rein to set the terms. During the campaign, the Free Press Action Fund assessed Trump's positions on the few issues he did speak about, including Net Neutrality (he incoherently thinks it's designed to "target conservative media") and encryption (he wants to break it), and found them harmful and misinformed.

With the absence of clarity from Trump, Jamison and Eisenach are free to impose their agenda on the future of the FCC — if it has a future at all.

They've habitually opposed the communications rights of real people, prioritizing instead the monopoly-minded views of companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

They're willing to double deal, taking money from industry and its lobbyists on the one hand while declaring their independence on the other. And they see further consolidation of media giants as a boon for the big businesses that pay them, ignoring the many Americans who struggle to pay escalating costs to connect and communicate.

If President-elect Trump were the least bit sincere about his claims to "drain the swamp" of lobbyists and special-interest operatives, he couldn't have done much worse than selecting these two. If he wants to make good on his pledge to block AT&T's $107 billion acquisition of Time Warner — which he called "too much concentration of power in the hands of too few" — he'll have to lock horns with two of its biggest boosters.

If we know anything about Trump it's that he's divisive, unpredictable and untrustworthy. The uncertainty surrounding his transition to power has created a void in Washington that seasoned lobbyists are scrambling to fill.

Shaking up Washington is anathema to industry insiders like Jamison and Eisenach, who have been on the receiving end of the sort of big-money influence peddling that voters resoundingly rejected during the primaries and on Election Day.

Business as usual is what a one-company town wants. But it's not what our democracy needs.

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