The White House this week unveiled a new executive order that will curb anti-competitive behavior in many industries, including a mandate to reinstate telecommunications surveillance suppressed during the Trump era.
According to an information sheet circulated by the White House, the decree includes 72 different initiatives in a dozen federal agencies aimed at stimulating competition and curbing predatory monopolies. Several aspects of the order specifically target large telecommunications, including a provision urging the current FCC to restore net neutrality.
83 million Americans are stuck under a broadband monopoly, and millions more live under a duopoly usually consisting of a cable giant or apathetic telecom. This lack of competition translates directly into high prices, uneven coverage, slow speeds, and horrible customer service.
Under Trump FCC boss Ajit Pai, the government’s response to these issues was largely ignore them. Or make the problem worse by removing consumer protections, remove barriers to media consolidation, or rubber stamping harmful fusions which further reduced competition.
The 2015 FCC net neutrality rules not only prevented telecom giants from abusing their power to give their own services an unfair commercial advantage (such as imposing unnecessary broadband ceilings to make streaming alternatives more expensive to use), but required ISPs to be clear about any limitations or other restrictions placed on your broadband connection.
The rules were repealed in 2017 by Pai in a wave of controversy. Not just the justifications for repealing the rules repeatedly proven false, the broadband industry was caught using fake and dead people to create the illusion of extremely unpopular decision support.
The repeal also eliminated much of the FCC consumer protection authority, while also prohibit states from intervening and consumer protection in the wake of federal apathy. Both decisions proved problematic in the ensuing pandemic, which highlighted the critical importance of broadband for jobs, education and healthcare.
By law, the White House cannot directly tell an independent agency what to do, so the executive order “encourages” the FCC to take action to restore not only net neutrality rules, but also the protection authority. of FCC consumers under the Communications Act.
The ordinance also urges the DOJ and the FTC to engage in a more in-depth review of mega-mergers that kill jobs and reduce overall competition in the industry. This did not happen during the Sprint T-Mobile merger review, which was approved in front of many officials even looked at the data.
The order also bans annoying early termination fees on telecom bills and urges the FCC to reinstate efforts (also scuttled under the Trump administration) that would have required ISPs to include a “nutritional label”On broadband connections, clearly indicating whether your broadband line includes a network limitation, hidden charges, usage caps or other limitations.
The decree also covers exclusive agreements between many owners and ISPs which effectively create block-by-block broadband monopolies. Although this practice is technically prohibited under FCC rules of 2007, loopholes in the restrictions have allowed ISPs to tap dance around them for years.
“This has an impact on low-income and marginalized neighborhoods, as landlord-ISP agreements can effectively block the expansion of broadband infrastructure by new providers,” the administration said.
There’s one catch: Most initiatives require the Biden administration to first appoint a full set of agency commissioners and a permanent FCC boss. The fact that this did not happen nearly six months after Biden started in office began to annoy consumer groups, which warn that the process of appointing and confirming a single permanent agency head will take months.
In recent years, the problems of the heavily monopolized US telecommunications industry have been put on the back burner as the lion’s share of DC’s political attention focuses on the problems created by big tech. But the executive order makes it clear that while it may not be its top priority, the government has not forgotten the massive problems constantly created by major telecommunications.