The Federal Communications Commission is leading the charge within the Trump administration to give a boost to media conglomerates.
Republican appointees at the FCC are moving toward the complete reversal of Obama administration rules on Net Neutrality—regulations designed to preserve consumers’ access to information.
Commission Chair Ajit Pai announced the plans on Tuesday, saying “the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet.”
The move looks set to allow micromanagement of cyberspace by multinational giants. In 2015, then-FCC Chair Tom Wheeler ruled that internet service providers (ISPs)—both home and mobile—qualified as “common carriers,” under Title II of the Communications Act. The order prevented telecoms giants from enclosing cyberspace by offering preferential access to well-funded content creators.
Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat on the FCC, warned that Tuesday’s order will allow “blocking, slowing down traffic, and paid prioritization” by ISPs.
“In just two days, many of us will join friends and family in celebrating the spirit of Thanksgiving,” Clyburn said. “But as we learned today the FCC majority is about to deliver a cornucopia full of rotten fruit, stale grains, and wilted flowers topped off with a plate full of burnt turkey.”
In his statement, Pai said that mandates on transparency will be proposed as an alternative to the Obama administration’s requirements.
The chair said ISPs should be open about any content priority policies “so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
In a separate order also announced on Tuesday, Pai revealed that the FCC will soon consider a proposal to “modify, retain, or eliminate the 39 percent national cap” on broadcast station ownership.
The threshold was set by Congress during the George W. Bush administration. Its erasure would ease the way for a proposed $3.9 billion merger between Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media—a deal that would see a single company have reach into roughly 72 percent of all homes in the US.
Commissioner Clyburn blasted the move, decrying it as “yet another proposal that reportedly seeks to allow even greater media consolidation.” She also said it would be illegal, should the FCC attempt to see Pai’s proposal to its logical conclusion.
Pai has been criticized throughout his tenure for appearing to make rules that would ease Sinclair’s proposed purchase of Tribune. Jessica Rosenworcel, the second Democratic appointee on the FCC, has said Pai should be investigated for his ties to the behemoth.
“If you look at the series of media policy decisions that has been made by this commission, they all seem to serve Sinclair Broadcasting’s business plans,” Rosenworcel said last month.
Immediately after Donald Trump’s election last November, Pai met with Sinclair executives, while still a Republican Commissioner under Obama.
During last year’s campaign, Sinclair gave Trump flattering coverage that included segments classified as “must run,” in an order to station managers. In April, Sinclair gave an on-air commentary job to Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign and White House aide.
In recent weeks, other regulators within the Trump administration haven’t been so keen on deferring to major media conglomerates. On Monday, the Justice Department officially announced it would be suing to stop a merger between Time Warner and AT&T.
Liberal critics of the Trump administration have raised concerns that antitrust enforcement in this case could be used as a cudgel against CNN. The President and the network have repeatedly clashed over the latter’s coverage of the former–despite CNN’s insistence on giving Trump wall-to-wall coverage at a critical point during the Republican Primary.
AT&T, however, reportedly offered to sell CNN after the Justice Department asked it to divest from Turner Broadcasting or DirectTV. Turner channels include CNN, HBO, and TNT.