You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger telecom sector crony than Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn has long made headlines for her support of SOPA, attacks on consumer protections like net neutrality and the FCC’s broadband privacy rules. She’s also come out in favor of turning ISPs into censors, and has been first in line to support giant ISP-backed protectionist state laws hampering competition. AT&T is routinely one of Blackburn’s top donors, and her home state of Tennessee remains one of the least connected states in the nation as a direct result.
Even in our current hyper-tribalistic, post-truth reality, you’d have a hard time arguing that Blackburn has been anything but terrible for the health of the internet and consumer rights. Yet somehow, Blackburn just keeps getting rewarded for giving consumers the tech policy equivalent of a giant middle finger.
Shortly after her attacks on net neutrality (Blackburn absolutely adores the idea of letting the biggest companies buy an unfair market advantage from ISPs) Blackburn was promoted to head the Communications and Technology subcommittee. And this week, Blackburn successfully jumped from the House to the Senate, beating challenger and former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to nab the Senate seat vacated by departing Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. Her win was, unsurprisingly, heralded as a big win for the public welfare by the state’s political apparatus:
“Marsha Blackburn demonstrated the type of conservative leadership Tennessee voters want in Washington,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner said in a statement Tuesday evening. “We want to congratulate Senator-elect Blackburn on a hard-fought victory and look forward to her working in the U.S. Senate to confirm conservative judges, push pro-growth reforms and advocate for policies that improve the lives of all Tennesseans.”
It’s another example where blind partisan fealty tends to trump common sense, resulting in people who can only see in red or blue cheerfully voting against their own best self interests in what winds up being little more than a self-immolating, facts-optional game of team sports. As we’ve noted constantly, issues like net neutrality really aren’t partisan, since an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Americans support this and other basic checks on monopoly power. ISPs and lawmakers just like to frame such tech issues as partisan, as sowing division hinders consensus and helps stall meaningful change and reform.
Last minute efforts by Taylor Swift apparently didn’t help convince Tennessee voters that Blackburn’s not their ally. Neither did Consumer groups efforts to educate Tennessee voters about Blackburn’s continued tendency to screw them; an effort that at one point involved crowdfunding billboards posted in Blackburn’s home district:
With Blackburn how holding a more powerful position in the Senate, Tennessee voters (and the rest of us) can look forward to more of the same. Blackburn is always AT&T’s first stop when the company wants to shovel some law its lobbyists wrote into the legislative bloodstream. That was made clear when Blackburn pushed both a fake net neutrality bill and a fake privacy bill, both with only one real goal: to prevent tougher state or federal laws from being passed. As giant ISPs continue their relentless assault on both competition and federal and state oversight, expect Blackburn to play an essential, starring role.
On the plus side, a freshly-reconstituted House filled with more net neutrality supporters should slow any telecom-industry efforts to pass wishlist legislation, while providing something vaguely resembling oversight for the Ajit Pai FCC. Still, it’s incredible to watch politicians like Blackburn routinely sell out the majority of her constituents on tech policy, then watch those same constituents happily root against their own best self interests by giving her an endless series of promotions.