December 3, 2023

One peculiar feature of the US government is that the 82-year-old’s hip joint can cause a drastic change in communications policy. and 82-year-old Senator Patrick Leahy, who underwent surgery after a fall on Thursday and is said to be resting comfortably. But while Leahy recovers, he won’t be able to cast his ballots and Democrats won’t be able to showcase their meager majority in the Senate — which could cost the administration its last chance to set net neutrality rules.

The temporary impasse caused by Leahy’s recovery has many end effects. Washington Post good piece Ease panic over federal judicial appointments, which require Senate confirmation. But the same goes for Gigi Son, Biden’s nominee for the fifth seat on the FCC.

The FCC has been deadlocked at 2-2 since President Biden’s inauguration, and once Sohn confirms, the FCC will be in a position to restore network neutrality rules by a majority vote — but it’s going slowly. As long as the fifth seat is vacant, net neutrality will remain in limbo – and it now appears that it may be empty for a very long time.

First, some background information on how we got here. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, progressives campaigned for net neutrality rules to protect against telecom interference in the Internet. At the end of Obama’s second term, it finally happened: In 2015, then-FCC chair Tom Wheeler issued the Open Internet Order and explicitly placed information services under Title II authority, giving the FCC stronger regulatory powers over how to provide access to Internet. After Trump’s election in 2016, one of the first things Republicans did was undo this, not only turning back the clock to 2014, but stripping the communications privacy rules and a number of other regulations in the deal.

There is a whole debate about whether this is good or bad, and a lot of conservatives will tell you that basically nothing has changed. We’ve done an entire podcast on the subject if you want more detail, but the point is that backtracking makes it impossible to address many of the more pressing issues with carriers. When Santa Clara firefighters They witnessed their data being throttled during a statewide emergencyThey had no one to appeal to in the government. Now that he’s drawn back from the Roe v. Wade new attention to location tracking, no agency has the authority to limit carriers’ data collection.

In theory, Biden was intent on solving this problem. When he took office with a majority in Congress (thanks to two wins in Georgia), many observers thought it would be easy to get the confirmation of a fifth Democratic Commissioner and return everything Wheeler had done. You are one of those watchers! I wrote an entire article in January 2021 titled “Georgia’s Runoff May Have Saved Network Neutrality”, which seems a bit awkward now.

Instead, basically nothing happened. Biden nominated Sohn in January of 2022 (almost a year later) and despite constant pressure from progressive groups, her nomination simply did not receive a vote in the Senate.

There are different stories about why this is so. Some people refer to Republican oppositionwhich could have made some Democratic senators shy about the shooting – but as recently as June, Politico mentioned That pings were there to confirm Sun. On the flip side, the White House was in no hurry to speed up the process, taking a year to nominate Sun and leaving several Republican attacks unanswered.

In fairness, the White House has a lot on its plate. We’re still in a pandemic, the economy is collapsing, and the last month we’ve spent taking care of Heartbreaking humble gun control pack through Congress. But as the November election approaches, Democrats may not have a majority in the Senate for much longer. Every week that passes — either because of priorities like gun control or injuries like a broken hip to Lehi — is another missed opportunity.

Let’s say the obvious: it shouldn’t have gone this far. We shouldn’t switch between Title II and Telecom Purge Night every time a new party takes over the White House. Presidents should not face a partisan siege simply to appoint regulators sympathetic to their views. Even more worrisome is that we shouldn’t be so subduing the whole stand-off over the physical health of the octogenarian that he feels pressured to get back to work instead of taking the time to fully recover.

But that’s how the US government operates, so there’s nothing to do but hope the nomination goes through the wires — and we pray for Senator Leahy’s speedy recovery.

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