Common carrier opponents' talking points miss the point

21 February 2015 by Steve Blum
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Unfortunately, it’s the way the game is played.

At first it seemed like there might be something resembling a public debate about the merits of bringing broadband infrastructure and service under common carrier rules before the FCC votes on it.

First, chairman Tom Wheeler delivered his sales pitch for the proposed rules. Then, commissioner Ajit Pai countered with substantive objections to what’s in the still-secret draft. But at the same time, he labeled it “President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet”.

And that was the end of any meaningful discussion.

What we’ve seen since is a series of press releases from Pai and fellow republican-appointee Michael O’Rielly that read like talking points written by party hacks. More examples are here and here. Which might well be the case: although it is nominally independent, the partisan allocation of seats on the commission – two for each party, with the tie-breaking chairman’s slot going to the party holding the white house – ensures ongoing coordination with political sponsors on both sides of the aisle, informal or otherwise.

When the conversation stops being about the ideas that are on the table and turns into a cheerleading session for people who already agree with each other, the pretence of an independent decision making process evaporates. It’s too much to hope that an open process would lead to a broad consensus. Everyone doesn’t have to agree 100%, though. There just needs to be enough mutual comprehension to move forward with some degree of certainty once the decision has been made.

The FCC’s practice of keeping its work in hermetically sealed partisan compartments that are only opened to public view after decisions are final is good for politics – and politicians of all persuasions – but a bad way to make public policy.