FCC "Reboot" Will Fall Short

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today launched a series of inquiries into the future of its regulatory scheme. As the Obama administration and its 3-2 Democrat majority on the FCC places renewed emphasis on consumer protection and government regulation, Republicans on the Commission responded with the ideological "marketplace."

Both sides sit as bosses over an historic bureacracy constructed in the early 20th Century. Revisions to the law seem to patch rather than reinvent a model. Even if the FCC could break loose of its assumptions, the body stands amid what scholars have identified as a policy-making system of lawyers, lobbyists, industry and interests.

The FCC is a "creature of Congress" -- it holds the money that keeps the agency alive. Every FCC action is not only scrutinized by this branch of government, many are struck down following review by the courts. Then there is the White House and its control over the FCC chair and other commissioners.

Still, some interesting discussion surfaced at the FCC in the form of questions:

1. Is the U.S. ready for the economic impact of a pandemic or fear of one? Could broadband video conferencing mitigate the negative economic impact of a disaster? Is the infrastructure ready to allow millions to work or go to school from home, if needed?

2. Could the lawyer-driven FCC process and its jargon be simplified, so regular people may understand it and participate?

3. Can the FCC successfully modernize its staff and operations? Will new media lead to a demonstration of interactive, 21st Century democracy? Will the FCC listen to people outside the beltway through technologies such as Twitter?

4. Can the FCC synthesize its data, improve quality and reform licensing?

5. Can the government mandate a simple telephone bill that would actually allow us to know all charges and respond in the marketplace to make better choices? May consumers be empowered?

The FCC has a mixed track-record in its attempts over the years to be a positive influence. When people complained about cable billing and service problems in the early 1990s, the FCC was slow to respond. The FCC has never forced cable companies to break-up channel tiers and pricing, which would be a responsive marketplace model. And, it's not clear that remarkable Internet innovation and mobile media development was so much a product of the FCC as a market that took advantage of freedom and trailing regulators.

The FCC's plan for a National Broadband Plan seems too little and too late. While the government collects and analyzes data, the U.S, may fall behind other countries. Further, attempts to structure consumer protection rules will not guarantee anything. Consumers need media literacy education to make the best decisions.

Despite the interest among those in the area of energy, education and public safety in mobile media, the government is not offering its most important assistance: funding.

Instead the tired Democrat-Republican ideological 3-2 split on the FCC has not changed. Democrats continue to voice doubt in industry self-regulation, and Republicans place most of their faith in the marketplace.

I do not need another Notice of Inquiry to conclude that a lot of the existing rules do not make sense. Regulation has its costs, as does industry run amok.

An informed public might be activated to challenge confusing, long-term contracts, poor service, lack of choice and over-charges. However, in the end our system must give great deference to the power of the First Amendment, the right of property ownership and the historic and healthy skepticism about government.

content. The FCC's indecency regulatory regime, which has exhausted so much time, energy and money, can also be addessed with existing obscenity state case law.

The agency acknowledges it must "reboot" the FCC. Maybe it just needs a shut down.

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