Think the Internet Is Polarized? Just Look at the FCC These Days

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[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission’s rise from relative obscurity to big headlines corresponds not just with the Trump’s arrival in Washington, but with the ever-greater centrality of the internet to American life, political and otherwise.

From its start in 1934, the FCC has played a crucial role in determining how Americans communicate and gather information. But for most of its existence, it’s been a boring, technocratic agency tasked with granting broadcast licenses and divvying up the wireless spectrum. It occasionally waded into controversies like obscenity laws, media consolidation rules, or the Fairness Doctrine, but even when decisions followed party lines, they rarely became political firestorms. But these days, the FCC has grown increasingly polarized—and polarizing. The agency that regulates the internet is becoming as sharply divided as the internet itself. You can’t blame petty politics alone for the mess the FCC finds itself in. Debates over net neutrality and cable boxes stem from an ideological shift in Washington. In earlier days, it was “good regulation versus bad regulation,” says Chris Lewis, vice president of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. Now it’s “more regulation versus less regulation.” The Trump administration has signaled a hard shift in the direction of deregulation, though it may occasionally come down in favor of government intervention when politically desirable.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s outlook is clearly in line with administration. But he, like the president and Congress, have an obligation to the public, not just to the Republican base or to free market ideology. No one, not even the telecommunication industry, is well served by regulations that yo-yo back and forth as the political seasons change. The internet, at least in this case, should really be above politics.


Think the Internet Is Polarized? Just Look at the FCC These Days