The fate of net neutrality has never looked bleaker, with the FCC’s proposed rules basically dismantling the free and open internet that we know today. You can thank the agency’s notorious revolving door for that; for years, FCC officials and the people they’re supposed to be regulating have been playing a horrible game of telecom musical chairs.
In fact, according to OpenSecrets.org, 18 industry leaders have both lobbied on behalf of Comcast and spent time in the public sector. Of those, 12 are currently registered as lobbyists for the anti-net-neutrality cable giant, five of whom have served tours with the FCC itself. And that’s just Comcast.
Of the 465 registered telecom lobbyists, almost 75 per cent have gone through the government’s revolving door. All that becomes a huge problem when you consider that these well-funded political mercenaries are basically schmoozing up their former colleagues on behalf of net neutrality’s biggest enemies.
What’s more troubling is that it’s not just the bottom-feeders who have mixed loyalties. Some of the highest ranking appointed officials at the FCC have deep, vested interests in the very same companies they’re supposed to be regulating.
These are some of the worst offenders in the big, incestuous orgy that is the FCC-telecom revolving door. If and when net neutrality dies, they will be the ones scrubbing the blood off their hands. You might want to pull a trash can over — because you’re about to be sick.
Tom Wheeler (FCC Chairman)
The biggest offender of regulatory incest on today’s FCC, Tom Wheeler is no stranger to telecom. Before being confirmed as FCC Chairman just under seven months ago, Wheeler was the proud president of the Cellular Telecom and Internet Association (CTIA), otherwise known as the biggest lobbying arm of the wireless industry. And before that, Wheeler headed up the National Cable and Telecom Association (NCTA), which is just as big as CTIA and might as well be a subsidiary of Comcast itself.
In between these various stints as face and voice of the wireless carriers, cable companies, and ISPs, Wheeler spent his time as a venture capitalist, investing mostly in companies offering — guess what? — cable, wireless, and video communications services. You know, the kind of companies that stand to profit from net neutrality’s demise.
As the Sunlight Foundation so succinctly puts it, “Wheeler had played nearly every position in the telecom industry by the time he was nominated to Chair the agency.” And wouldn’t you know it, while driving the telecom industry’s lobbying tactics, Wheeler also managed to raise over $US1 million dollars for Obama from 2008-2012 — right before Obama gave him the coveted chairmanship.
Michael Powell (NCTA President)
Before Wheeler took office (and while he was still sitting pretty at the top of the telecom lobbying tower), Powell was enjoying Wheeler’s current title of FCC Chairman. Once his five-year term was up, Powell made his way over to the NCTA to take on the role of CEO, which Wheeler had so kindly been keeping warm for him. That’s right; the person lobbying hardest to destroy net neutrality and the person in charge of deciding its fate very recently swapped jobs.
If Wheeler is a bee in net neutrality’s bonnet, Powell is a hornet’s nest. In 2002, early in his term as Chair, Powell was the one to actually categorize the internet as an information service — the same classification that even allows for net neutrality to fall into question in the first place. Or as Powell litotically put it during a recent keynote speech at the NCTA annual meeting, “a light regulatory touch”. So as you can imagine, now that he’s no longer under the guise of government leadership, the current head of the cable lobby is doing everything in his power to take down the internet as we know it. All he has to do is dial his old number.
Meredith Attwell Baker (Incoming CTIA President)
By now it should come as no surprise, but Baker has been around the block — a lot. Even prior to playing the role of FCC commissioner from 2009-2011, Baker already had a tendency to err on the side of industry. In 2011, she fought for and voted in favour of Comcast’s (ultimately approved) pruchase of NBC Universal. At which point she cut her commissioner term short to accept a job as Vice President of Government Affairs for Comcast-NBC Universal.
So while it may have been a relatively disgusting display of having her hands in the cable industry’s coffers, Baker’s decision to abandon ship (in exchange?) for a cushy, high paying, lobbying position isn’t all that surprising. And though a move like this might seem like it couldn’t possibly be legal, you’d be wrong! Baker is technically forbidden from lobbying the FCC for the two years following her hire. She can, however, lobby the House and Senate on behalf of Comcasat. Which she’s done — for 21 different bills. And what’s more, most of this legislation has dealt directly with deregulating the internet. Fantastic.
Daniel Alvarez (Legal Advisor to FCC Chair)
Currently serving as legal advisor to Wheeler, Daniel Alvarez previously worked at the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, LLP. where he was a proud representative of — yep — none other than Comcast. But in 2010, before Alvarez ever got appointed, he sent a letter to the FCC on behalf of Comcast that forcefully argued for the demise of net neutrality, saying:
The Commission should not adopt an absolute ban on ‘discrimination.’ Many commenters [on FCC policy] recognise that an absolute ban on discrimination would prohibit ‘socially beneficial discrimination’ and stifle innovation and investment.
Which isn’t exactly encouraging in terms of a fair internet future — especially considering the telecom-embedded company that FCC officials tend to keep.
Phillip Verveer (Senior Counselor to FCC Chair)
Verveer was announced as Wheeler’s senior counsel just days after Wheeler took office this past November. Before taking on this highly influential role, Verveer (like Alvarez) also worked at Willkie Farr & Gallagher when it was Comcast’s principal regulatory counsel. And according to the National Law Journal, he’s been involved with the cell phone industry in some capacity since its inception.
In the past few years, Verveer has also been retained by two industry groups actively working to block net neutrality. Which industry groups? You guessed it — the CTIA and NCTA. Just like Papa Wheeler himself.
So if you’re wondering whether net neutrality will get a fair ruling from the agency that’s supposed to protect it, don’t bother. Because the judges used to be the executioners, and they will be again just as soon as their terms run out.