Trump names FCC advisers as clouds gather around net neutrality

Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s “landing team” to oversee hiring and policy at the FCC casts doubt on the future of both net neutrality and the expansion of federal subsidies for low-income telecom consumers. And it may also pave the way for more consolidation in the telecom industry.

Former Sprint lobbyist Mark Jamison and economist Jeff Eisenach were named by the incoming administration to manage the transition at the Commission as the president-elect prepares to take office, Reuters reported.  

As Recode noted, both men have vocally objected to the net neutrality principles that have been a top priority for the FCC under the Obama administration. Eisenach wrote two years ago that net neutrality “is crony capitalism pure and simple—an effort by one group of private interests to enrich itself at the expense of another group by using the power of the state.”  And Jamison wrote in June that net neutrality “is backfiring” and should be dropped, freeing businesses from burdensome regulations. “This means letting the industry make business decisions and regulating only when monopolies take over,” he wrote.

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Those comments are in stark contrast to Tom Wheeler, who has used the Democrats’ one-vote advantage at the FCC to push aggressively for net neutrality rules. Wheeler is expected to step down soon after Trump is inaugurated Jan. 20; the president would then appoint his successor.

Jamison has also voiced his opposition to the FCC’s Lifeline program, which subsidizes telecom equipment and services to low-income consumers. The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines in March to expand Lifeline to cover internet service during a heated meeting that followed the collapse of an eleventh-hour effort to reach consensus among the five commissioners.

Lifeline, which launched during the Reagan administration and was expanded to include mobile phones in 2005, has previously been limited to providing discounted service on voice calling options.

Continuing to expand Lifeline was a priority for Hillary Clinton during her campaign, but Jamison wrote several months ago that such an effort would “create waste rather than solutions.”

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Meanwhile, Eisenach and Jamison may signal a willingness on the part of the Trump administration to allow more consolidation in telecom, media and other markets. Trump had vowed during the campaign that he would block AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner, but analysts have come to believe the transaction now stands a good chance of being approved.

That could pave the way to a flurry of consolidation in telecom and media, including a potential tie-up between T-Mobile and Sprint. Whether such moves would be good for consumers, of course, is open for debate.