If you had any doubt that big business is calling the shots with the Bush administration, they must have been removed by Monday's decision in the 'Brand X' case before the Supreme Court. If you follow the big political contribution money, you will find the winners -- a good rule of thumb to remember as Congress ponders telecom regulatory reform this summer. When I wrote earlier this year about SBC's latest political spending spree, an SBC employee sent me an email imploring me "not to forget" about contributions by cable companies. Though the cablecos' outlays are not as large as the telcos', they still donate large bundles o' cash to gain ample entree into Washington's corridors of power -- apparently enough help to tilt the Brand X decision in the cable companies' favor.
(Please spare us any complaints about the Supreme Court being above politics. We all learned the truth of that reality long ago.)
So what does Brand X mean for telecom reform legislation? Probably that it happens sooner, rather than later. With the Bush team tied down trying to solve problems in Iraq and trying to placate its financial-services friends by pushing Social Security reform, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., may seek an opening to influence the future of telecom, not a bad start to a future presidential campaign.
McCain has already shown he's ready to take on other Republicans, with legislative plans to back municipal broadband projects -- a direct slam against the lawmaking ideas of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, a former Southwestern Bell employee (and someone whose wife still works for SBC).
And with Democrats in no mood to compromise with White House appointments, the leaves may start falling before FCC chairman Kevin Martin gets a majority of Republican commissioners approved at the FCC. In the meantime, watch for the Bell companies to push quickly for "equal and fair" regulatory treatment -- meaning, they want the same hands-off deal the cable companies now have.