While the White House just appointed Comcast lobbyist David Cohen to be Ambassador to Canada, it still hasn’t selected a permanent leader of the nation’s top telecom regulator, a delay that’s increasingly alarming consumer rights organizations.
According to a White House statement, Cohen “led a broad portfolio of responsibilities” at Comcast, “including corporate communications, legal affairs, government and regulatory affairs, public affairs, corporate administration, corporate real estate and security, and community impact.”
More succinctly Cohen was a lobbyist, spearheading the cable giant’s controversial 2011 acquisition of NBC Universal, and orchestrating much of the company’s relentless opposition to consumer protections ranging from net neutrality to basic broadband privacy rules.
Cohen was a primary enabler of not only Comcast’s monopolistic domination of the broadband sector, but the Trump era attacks on telecom sector oversight and media consolidation rules. As such he’s the personification of many of the monopolistic ideologies the Biden administration claims to be opposed to.
Cohen personally hosted Biden’s first ever fundraising dinner in 2019. And while being rewarded for your fundraising prowess is nothing new for DC, Cohen’s appointment comes despite the fact that the Biden administration still hasn’t appointed a permanent FCC boss nearly six months into his term, leaving the agency incapable of any real reform.
As one of Comcast’s top policy and lobbying gurus, David Cohen was an indisputable architect of America’s ongoing broadband dysfunction at the hands of telecom monopolies. Yet while Cohen has been amply rewarded for his fundraising prowess, the agency tasked with undoing his legacy sits handcuffed and incapable of meaningful reform.
By law, the agency that controls the White House enjoys a 3-2 Commissioner partisan advantage. But after the rushed Trump appointment of Nathan Simington to the FCC last fall, it currently sits gridlocked at 2-2 commissioners, unable to take meaningful action. If you’re AT&T or Comcast, being overseen by regulators that can’t really act is the gift that keeps on giving.
Dozens of consumer groups wrote the Biden administration last month, noting that by the time a permanent FCC boss is appointed and seated, a full year may have been wasted.
“Given the legislative calendar and the diminishing number of days for hearings and confirmation votes, we have reached a critical point to guarantee the agency charged with ensuring affordable communications access can do its work during your administration,” the groups said.
Up to 42 million Americans lack access to broadband. Another 83 million live under a broadband monopoly. A lack of competition among regional monopolies directly results in U.S. broadband being spottier, slower, and more expensive than a long line of developed nations, a problem that was particularly obvious during the Covid crisis.
Yet the nation’s top telecom regulator remains sidelined courtesy of a Trump-era net neutrality repeal that not only eliminated net neutrality rules, but gutted both state and federal regulators’ ability to protect consumers from predatory telecom monopolies.
When it comes to “Big Tech,” Biden has shown what appears to be a genuine interest in reining in monopoly power, whether it’s the appointment of Jonathan Kanter to head the DOJ’s antitrust division, or Lina Khan’s appointment to head of the FTC. But reform of the equally problematic telecom industry simply hasn’t seen the same level of urgency.
While a recent Biden executive order targeting monopolies urges the FCC to restore net neutrality and several consumer reforms (like clearer labeling on your broadband bill), the FCC can’t implement any of them without a full roster of commissioners—leaving it with limited ability to protect consumers during an ongoing economic and health crisis.