While acting Federal Communications Commission chair Jessica Rosenworcel was prominently in the picture at President Joe Biden's signing ceremony for an executive order on competition that urged various regulatory steps by the agency to promote high-speed, low-cost broadband, there was another commissioner in attendance: Republican Nathan Simington.
With the FCC currently at a 2-2 political tie, courting Simington could be key to getting things done if Biden is not yet ready to name a permanent chair and/or pick a third Democrat.
In a statement following the ceremony, the FCC‘s newest member — and still something of a question mark in terms of exactly where he would come down on the re-regulatory effort — praised what he called Biden’s “vociferous commitment to capitalism and competition in service of consumer welfare and innovation,” and said he was confident the executive order, which drew lots of pushback from USTelecom and NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, would be “thoughtfully implemented with due consideration of costs, risks and harms balanced against vital consumer interests.”
That certainly leaves Simington free to criticize any effort he feels did not sufficiently take into account the costs and harms of regulation.
For example, the executive order urges the FCC to restore network neutrality rules. Simington said new net neutrality rules would be better left to Congress and that, if the FCC tried to re-regulate, it would be hard pressed not to apply those rules to Big Tech players. He said that trying to do so would be “an epochal realignment in corporate regulation” whose “potential for disruption, waste and chilling effects is difficult to overstate.”
Like other Republicans who can see the re-regulatory writing on the wall in a Democratic administration, Simington does not oppose new net neutrality rules so long as they are not under a monopoly-era Title II classification of internet access. And, he added, Congress would have “an opportunity for Congress to protect speech rights that would not be protected merely by [the FCC] reclassifying broadband internet access under Title II.”
But Simington sounded almost enthusiastic about working with the other side to affect the president’s order, which the FCC is under no obligation to do since it is an independent agency.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues on the commission and my counterparts in the executive branch to realize a bipartisan vision of openness, competition, and consumer choice consistent with the principles of internet freedom adopted under Chairman [Michael] Powell and supported by every chair since,” he said.
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