We spoke with Michael J. Copps, former FCC Commissioner and Senior Advisor for Media and Democracy Reform at Common Cause. Photo courtesty of FCC.

When Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced on Thursday that he would leave the agency on the day Donald Trump is sworn in, it was not a total surprise. There were rumors circulating about his plans for several months, and it is not uncommon for an FCC chair to step down when a new President takes office, but the stakes are higher this time.

The Senate’s failure to confirm Jessica Rosenworcel for a second term before going into recess means the Commission will be left with one Democrat and two Republican commissioners, along with two vacancies that will be filled by the new Trump administration. Activists worry that recent commission actions, including classifying the Internet as a common carrier (like telephone service) under Title II of the Communications Act  will be reversed. A February 2015 ruling allowed for the protection of “Net Neutrality” instead of a system of tiered access where better quality service could be sold for a higher price.

Wheeler, in a statement on the FCC’s website, said: “It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners to help protect consumers, strengthen public safety and cybersecurity, and ensure fast, fair and open networks for all Americans.”

On the day Wheeler’s announced he was stepping down, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps tweeted: 

“It is going to take energizing a grassroots mass movement to protect [net neutrality],” Copps told The Progressive by phone on Friday.

“You’ll never get reform in this country until you have media reform, and you’ll never get real democracy until you have something more closely resembling media democracy.”

Copps is no stranger to grassroots movements. When he was an FCC commissioner in 2003, the Bush Administration tried to loosen the rules to allow for greater media consolidation. The FCC received more than half a million letters opposing the change. It was the largest number of comments the Commission had ever received on an issue. The media reform movement that emerged from that effort gave rise to watchdog groups including Free Press, which continues that work today.

“There was even more messaging coming into the FCC on Net Neutrality,” says Copps, who now serves as senior advisor for media and democracy reform for the group Common Cause.

When Wheeler was nominated by President Obama, activist groups feared that his background as a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry would make him an enemy of the public interest. But as FreePress president Craig Aaron said in a press statement:

“Wheeler showed a willingness to stand up to industry pressure, listen to voices outside the Beltway and — perhaps most importantly — to change his mind.” According to Copps, “he told me he really wanted to do a good job and serve the public interest, and I think for the most part he made good on that. Net Neutrality was historic, certainly the primary achievement of his years there, but he did a lot other things as well on broadband, E-rate, privacy, and universal service. I think it was the most successful chairmanship in many years.”

Copps is not sure what will happen once Trump is in office, but he is concerned about the partisan imbalance in Congress, and on the Commission. He calls the Senate’s failure to confirm Rosenworcel “a travesty.”

“I don’t think anyone ever came to the FCC with more communications knowledge than she had,” Copps says. “She just got caught in this awful hyper-partisanship. It is a dark cloud for the Senate, there was no excuse for them not re-confirming her. It was shameful.”

“This is up to us, people have to speak up. . . . nothing is going to come from a beneficent Congress,” says Copps. “A lot of Trump’s votes came from working class, middle America. I don’t think a lot of those people are interested in telecom monopolies.”

 “In the final analysis, when these Congressmen go home to their districts, people need to turn up and say ‘what about this Net Neutrality, why are you against it?’ That’s the only way you ever get reform,” Copps says. “Civil rights, or worker rights, or disability rights, it’s got to come from down below. It’s going to be difficult to do, but I think this administration is going to be so controversial once it gets going and people realize that these people are turning back the clock on education, on climate change, on energy, on health, and, add in media and communications.”

Copps is determined to be part of the resistance:

“It’s going to take a lot of work. Public interest groups need to coordinate and people out in the grassroots need to talk to their families and colleagues, go on local radio, write a letter to the editor, march, sing a song, do what they can do. That’s what keeps me going now, it’s not a happy time, but it’s not a completely hopeless time.”

Norman Stockwell is publisher of The Progressive




This is very troubling! As you said "the stakes are higher this time". Im sure Wheeler can see that. So my question is why would he open up this vulnerability. The Donald makes no secret of his feelings about a free press. That and his history provides a clear picture of what he would like to see the FCC do in his 4 years (if that). Why Wheeler why!?

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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