I have had a surprisingly strong reaction to what I wrote yesterday about a very anti-competition decision from the FCC that allows Baby Bells to choke off fair access to local facilities under their control.
I thought these kinds of competition and telecom issues would not generate much interest — but I have already had more than 100 emails in reaction.
These facilities were once part of the AT&T telecommunications monopoly — arguably bought and paid for by U.S. consumers paying monopolistically determined rates for those facilities now under the control of these Baby Bells. To ensure competition, the Congress passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act to compel those controlling these facilities to provide wholesale access to competitors — so as to promote competition and in order to benefit the consumer.
Well, because of the FCC’s decision yesterday and other recent FCC rulings, America is back in the pre-1996 era, and consumers are screwed.
I argued yesterday that the pattern of decisions that Michael Powell and his cabal have pursued make no sense because they so blatantly fly in the face of the public interest. Whose interests are being served?
All I can figure at this point, until someone makes a better case to me, is that Michael Powell is serving his own interest as well as, perhaps, the economic interests of his staff.
This note came in today from an informed TWN reader:
Steve — Apropos of your speculation on Michael Powell’s future career plans, I wanted to draw your attention (anonymously, if you don’t mind) to the fact that News Corp hired two Powell aides — Susan Eid and Paul Jackson — as lobbyists not long after Powell released a set of media ownership rules that would have benefited Fox and other big station groups. (Check out Broadcasting & Cable, “Capital Watch,” 3/1/2004 — it’s in Lexis/Nexis.)
It’s particularly curious that News Corp would have hired Jackson, formerly the FCC’s congressional lobbyist, considering the FCC had horribly bungled its relationship with Congress and received one of its strongest rebukes ever in the form of various votes against Powell’s ownership rules. Only the administration stepping in at the last minute allowed the ownership cap to be lifted as a matter of law.
What corporate boards is Michael Powell going to be invited on?
I think that the action plan here is to get the administration to reverse its rule relaxation on employment and lobbying by senior officials leaving government. As reported December 5th in the Washington Post:
. . .the Office of Government Ethics declared that it was relaxing prohibitions on lobbying by former Cabinet secretaries and other top officials.
Until now, senior officials at Cabinet departments and agencies had not been allowed to lobby former colleagues for a full year after leaving office — a rule designed to prevent an obvious conflict of interest. But, in a notice in the Federal Register, the ethics office issued a new rule invoking its power to declare that “a former senior employee who served in a ‘parent’ department or agency is not barred . . . from making communications to or appearances before any employee of any designated component of that parent.”
Before 9/11, the Enron fiasco looked as if it was going to take the Bush administration down. John McCain was licking his chops and planning to challenge Bush who had done little to curtail the collusiveness and corruption that had penetrated many of America’s blue chip firms.
This relaxation of ethics rules is a big deal, and I will be writing more about this soon. I would enjoy hearing from any in appropriate positions how best to compel the administration to reverse this decision.
In the mean time, The Washington Note is going to pay close attention to the job and consulting relationships of Michael Powell, his fellow anti-competition FCC commissioners, and other FCC staff.
— Steve Clemons