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Trump appointments confirm net neutrality hostility

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US President-elect Donald Trump has announced several appointments to his ‘landing team’ including FCC overseers who appear to be against net neutrality.

Jeffrey Eisenach, a SVP at NERA Economic Consulting, and Mark Jamison, a Professor at the University of Florida, are two of the appointments with responsibilities specific to the FCC’s evolution to a Trump administration. Both were supporters of Trump throughout the campaign, and both have previously shown themselves to be sitting in the anti-net neutrality camp, which could be a worry for current supporters of the Open Internet campaign.

Looking first at Eisenach whose current employer NERA Economic Consulting has a reputation of working with telcos around the world. One case study with Deutsche Telekom was focused on examining the ‘case for deregulation of certain telecommunications markets in Europe’ as well as several studies indicating the negative impact of net neutrality rulings on the telco sector. The New York Times noted Eisenach is simultaneously working with clients such as Verizon, while also assisting with the re-staffing of the FCC; no conflict of interests there of course.

Jamison is another who has extensive experience in the telecommunications industry and now serves as a Professor at the University of Florida, as well as the school’s Director of the Public Utility Research Center. Prior to entering the world of education, Jamison was Manager of Regulatory Policy at Sprint where he would have presumably been against the concept of net neutrality, though this was in the 90s so a bit early.

In recent papers however, Jamison has been especially critical of the current FCC set-up and the policies subsequently set out. The following quote from his paper ‘Emerging Institutional Weaknesses in US Regulation’ sets out his current stance quite effectively:

Unfortunately, the FCC under its current chairman has abandoned its use of economic analysis and put itself under almost direct political control. The agency’s economists have produced no working papers since 2012. Also, the agency leadership effectively quarantined the FCC economists in 2015 when the leadership prohibited the economists from involvement in the agency’s decision to treat internet service providers as telephone common carriers. The agency’s chief economist in 2015 referred to the agency decision as an “economics-free zone”, not because there was no economic thought in the decision, but because the economics was largely wrong and not provided by the agency’s economists.

According to Jamison, the decision to regulate the internet and implement net neutrality policies descended from the White House, as opposed to any economic analysis which was performed by the FCC themselves.

Now this type of passive-aggressive mudslinging is not uncommon in a nation where there is a two party system. Jamison is Republican so is naturally going to disagree with the current FCC set-up, which leans towards the Democrats with Tom Wheeler as Chairperson, though Jamison does have a point. Another extract from the same paper:

The recent demise of the agency’s independence from politics can be seen in commission voting patterns. From 1994 until Tom Wheeler became chair in 2013, votes at the FCC tended to be unanimous (65% when a Democrat was and 58% when a Republican was chair). Under Chairman Wheeler that has dropped to 47%. Prior to 2013 the commission votes rarely split along party lines.

Irrelevant of blue/red leanings, the FCC is supposed to be (in theory) a government body, independent of party politics, to govern and regulate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable; the aforementioned statistics do not give confidence in the independence of the body.

Ironically, in a paper where Jamison bemoans the lack of independence of FCC and an assumed favourability of Democratic party policies, he essentially outs himself as a Republican and a firm supporter of Republican party policies, most notably, anti-net neutrality.

Trump has never been a supporter of net neutrality; this is not a secret. Completely reversing the work towards net neutrality which has been achieved by a Wheeler-led FCC to date will not be an easy task, however with firm supporters such as Eisenach and Jamison overseeing the transition of the FCC, ensuring it falls in line with a Trump-style administration, it does look ominous for those supporters of the Open Internet.


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