Posted by: Jim Cicconi on February 26, 2015 at 11:52 am
Perhaps I’m betraying my years, but in Washington policy circles there has always been tension between those interested in solving problems and those who see policy disputes as a test of ideology. I’d readily admit falling into the former camp, and have the policy scars to prove it. To be sure, one must have principles and a philosophy of government’s proper role. But a democracy cannot function when either side lapses into rigidity. Or worse, when political advantage becomes more important than the nation’s best interest.
In our little world, and in my decades of interaction with it, I’ve felt, and still feel, that the FCC has tried to stay focused on solving problems and avoided turning issues into dogma. Every chairman in my memory, including the current one, has faced political stampedes of one sort or another. Yet the agency has always tried to find a middle ground and a consensus win. They’ve understood that a win, unlike a fight, is the product of reaching out to both sides, and working in a bipartisan way to find a solution. A win is the product of compromise, thoughtful policy, and a genuine desire to find the answer to a complex set of issues.
We had such a situation – and a bipartisan win – in the 2010 net neutrality rule. Unfortunately, this was undone by a court decision, facing us with the same situation a second time. Today, an Administration and an FCC that appeared headed toward another bipartisan win on net neutrality were driven instead to a partisan fight. The 3-2 FCC vote, along party lines, for sweeping new regulation of the Internet, is a rejection of the compromise win and an embrace, however reluctant, of the political fight. It’s unfortunate that this single issue, more than any other, has over the course of ten years caused a divisive spirit to spread to an agency that has long sought unanimity on significant long term issues, and generally found it. A 5-0 decision doesn’t leave a lot of room for either side to continue the argument, while a 3-2 decision, particularly on issues of such broad scope, is an invitation to revisiting the decision, over and over and over.