Thought Piece by Stephen Heins
[The FCC and Tom Wheeler seem particularly certain to simply being an agency that is at least 5 years behind the state of the art of technology and Broadband innovation of the industry they regulate. Steve]
Peak TV in the FCC Valley of Darkness. Tom Wheeler is not the first whose life in politics left him unfit for responsibility.
May 24, 2016 7:17 p.m. ET | By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
A piece on Vulture.com, not the first of its kind, says we are living in a period of “peak TV.” More money is being invested in more adventurous shows than ever, to be distributed in a rapidly expanding TV ecosystem created by the high-speed Internet: “ Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange team up for FX, Amy Adams heads to HBO, Drew Barrymore joins Timothy Olyphant for a Netflix NFLX 2.22 % comedy.”
John Stankey, head of AT&T T 0.34 % ’s entertainment business, which recently acquired DirecTV not because it loves the satellite business but because it wants to distribute DirecTV’s programming to wireless customers, told a cable industry trade show last week that it was a “mystery” why Washington wanted to impose unwieldy regulation “when there’s this much innovation going on.”
Then came Tom Wheeler, the Federal Communications Commission chief, in what TR Daily called a sparsely attended appearance, to say black is white, up is down. Mr. Wheeler even referred to himself as a regulatory “insurgent,” as if bogging down the Internet in years-long FCC rule makings is what powered the rise of YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBONow, Sling, Sony SNE -0.02 % Vue, etc.
Not so sparsely noticed was an appearance by his Republican fellow commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who said Mr. Wheeler’s latest regulatory power play belonged in the “garbage.”
Let’s understand something. It would have been no derogation of democracy—it would have been a triumph of representative government—if Mr. Wheeler had used his chairman’s veto to kill the net-neutrality rule-making that President Obama improperly forced down his throat two years ago.
Congress created independent regulatory agencies for a reason. It gave them five-member commissions, in which the chairman holds the deciding vote, for a reason—to scuttle ill-advised, partisan agendas.
Mr. Wheeler’s failure was a failure of courage, pure and simple. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, in detailed reporting at the time, minced no words. The White House had cooked up its own net-neut rule, dropped it in his lap and ordered his supposedly independent agency to execute it. This, after Mr. Wheeler spent months developing his own better-informed, less ideological solution, and even recruited liberal groups like the NAACP to support it.
Mr. Wheeler can only pretend now his flip-flop was his own idea. His incoherent rationalizations in speech after speech imply that cable carriers are strangling Netflix when Netflix has more subscribers than the U.S. cable industry combined. Yet the analysis is incomplete without mention that Mr. Wheeler was chosen, vetted and appointed by the White House to pursue his original approach to net neutrality, a key issue facing the Obama FCC. Only after Democrats lost the 2014 midterms did the White House pull out the rug when President Obama decided to spend his last two years re-ingratiating himself with the left.
Mr. Wheeler’s story—a man whose lifetime in politics and lobbying left him unfitted for the responsible job he finally received—is hardly
Ray LaHood, a seven-term Republican House member, became President Obama’s transportation secretary, presiding over the world’s leading repository of expertise on “pedal misapplication” accidents. His admired and trusted National Transportation Safety Board had just completed a special report on crashes by school-bus and firetruck drivers who couldn’t or wouldn’t admit they stepped on the gas instead of the brake. Yet instead of speaking with his agency’s expertise when Toyota was hit with a classic, media-fanned unattended-acceleration panic, he put his authority behind a phony trial lawyer story about an undetectable electronic bug, apparently because his inner congressman couldn’t bear to say in public that drivers might be at fault.
Gray Davis, Democratic governor of California during its botched deregulation, let the state’s major utilities slide into bankruptcy and California descend into rolling blackouts rather than take responsibility for letting utilities return to long-term contracting with power suppliers. When the state finally did, a crisis that he blamed on a shortage of power plants and manipulation by out-of-state power companies instantly resolved itself.
Mr. Wheeler, under questioning by members of Congress, has lately refused to abide by the long-standing tradition that the FCC chairman steps down after a change of president. The effect has been to sink the renomination hopes of his Democratic colleague, Jessica Rosenworcel, whom Mr. Wheeler appears obscurely to blame for his humiliation by the White House.
At the end the movie “The Bridges at Toko-Ri,” about heroic pilots in the Korean War, a character asks, where do we get such men? In a completely opposite vein, one might ask where we get some of the people who pretend to do the public’s business in Washington.