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While President Trump is getting a civics lesson, with a reminder there are three branches of government (and an informal fourth branch -- the media), he acknowledges the presidency "is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier." He also now admits "you have to be flexible," explaining the many instances when he has switched positions on issues.

However politically astute he has been at times, the president faces a steep learning curve when it comes to policy and particularly to process.

He thought he could govern by fiat, Congress would bend to his will and the courts would be nothing more than a minor nuisance, doubting that the judiciary even has the authority to question him. And he saw the media as easily discredited foils.

As recent assessments of his 100 days in office have indicated, legislative achievements have been limited, with no significant action on some of the promises at the core of his campaign.

Despite heavy criticism of President Obama for issuing executive orders and decrees, Trump has not hesitated to indulge in that same practice; indeed, his 30 executive orders are the most at this stage by any president since Harry Truman. Even though some orders have been of ceremonial nature, others have been more substantive and with immediate effect. A notable example is withdrawing the United States from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership -- although, interestingly, Trump hasn't done that with NAFTA, a subject of regular denunciation during his campaign.

Much of the president's action and rhetoric has been aimed at reducing government regulations in various spheres. And there is no doubt a president has a variety of sources of power, including appointments and nominations to high-ranking and well-placed government positions.

An interesting example of presidential power in the broader context of process and policy involves the Federal Communications Commission. Here we see the issue of net neutrality and some significant trends in the area of telecommunications and the internet.

The new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is a strong advocate of deregulation in the telecom/broadband/cable sectors, and a staunch foe of the net neutrality regulations adopted in 2015 after a federal appeals court rejected the previous neutrality provisions.

Net neutrality generates strong sentiments among businesses and consumer groups. It is intended to ensure an open internet, according to its supporters, based on the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

Pai became chairman with election of a Republican president, replacing Democrat Tom Wheeler, who served under Obama and led the push for broader regulation of the telecommunications sector, including net neutrality and treating broadband providers as a public utility, subject to stricter regulation.

Pai, on the other hand, claims to be "restoring internet freedom" by easing broadband regulations. All of this comes at a time of continued consolidation within the industry and further proposed mergers such as the AT&T-Time Warner combine. And we are witnessing trends, such as cord-cutting (canceling a cable TV subscription or landline phone connection in favor of Internet-based or wireless service) and transitions in video delivery systems, with predictions that within five years viewers will watch more hours online than on a TV set. The rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and other content providers and video options bring new questions as viewers seek less expensive avenues for home and mobile access. Live sports coverage has been a mainstay of TV/satellite/cable but the recent cutbacks and a declining subscriber base at ESPN are evidence of a changing climate.

These issues are at the center of American business and popular culture. And the decisions initiated by the FCC, including the future of net neutrality, can have major impact. But net neutrality and related issues also represent a prime example of the complexities of the governmental process. It will draw not only the White House and FCC, but Congress, the courts, other federal agencies, major corporations, public interest groups and consumers. Earlier, when the FCC was weighing action on net neutrality, the FCC received several million public comments, the vast majority of them favoring equal access. A similar outpouring can be expected this time around.

Trump may consider jettisoning net neutrality as a priority, but the process can be complex and it presents a potential major conflict between Trump's populist base and his anti-regulatory, pro-big- business support.

It is an issue that provides a civics lesson in itself, with its complex process, founded on checks and balances. How well the president learns and applies that civics lesson will have telling effect.

Commentary on 05/03/2017

Print Headline: Caught in the Net

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