News that Colin Crowell was resigning his post as a senior adviser to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski sent shock waves through Washington late yesterday.
Crowell, who prior to going over to the FCC was one of the most influential Democrat legislative and policy advisers on Capitol Hill when it came to telecommunications and Internet policy, was believed by many to be one of the most vocal advocates inside the FCC for regulating the Internet and imposing “Net Neutrality,” which is to the Internet what Socialism is to private property.
Why Crowell is leaving just before the FCC is to begin the heavy lifting on a “national broadband plan” that could cost American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, as well as major policy efforts around Internet regulation, raises questions about his motivations. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Genachowski was considering not regulating broadband networks, a decision, if true, that would have left Crowell’s many friends on the extreme left very angry. There was speculation inside the FCC and among the telecommunications industry that Crowell or his allies may have been the sources for the Post piece. Other sources say that if Genachowski was leaning toward such a policy decision, Crowell would have been left in an untenable position and unable to defend it, and thus forced to resign.
Crowell is the second vocal supporter of Internet regulation to leave the senior ranks of the Obama Administration. Last fall, senior White House Internet policy adviser Susan Crawford was reportedly forced out (second item) a year earlier than planned after draft regulatory language for a “net neutrality” Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was circulated. The draft NPRM included large swaths of language that appeared to be cut and pasted from documents prepared by leftist groups, including Free Press, an entity underwritten in part by the Ford Foundation, as well as other supporters with ties to Google. White House and FCC sources say Crawford was viewed as an influential advocate for these policies inside the White House, but the NPRM language was so extreme that once it became public even the White House could not support it. The draft was later withdrawn.
Crowell was expected to be a key player on Capitol Hill, where he was a longtime staffer for Rep. Ed Markey, an advocate for regulating the Internet. It appears that Congress may have to take up major broadband policy legislation to clear up which federal agency has standing to oversee the Internet, since a federal court ruled that the FCC had limited jurisdiction over the networks. Officially, the FCC was saying late Tuesday that Crowell’s exit was voluntary, but FCC staff contacted for comment said that Crowell’s exit was so ill-timed that unless it was related to a serious health or family issue that it had to be a result of differences over policy with the chairman.