Over the next couple of years, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) will proceed down one of two paths. Its significance may gradually fade into insignificance. Or it will become a lightning rod for many of the issues about our society. Whether the FCC goes through with its planned auction of licenses to carriers and service suppliers or is killed by Congress in a Congressional effort to rein from the FCC, anybody who’s interested in calling legislation will want to know what the FCC’s most up-to-date program is. Thus, what is the FCC up to?
To answer that question, one has to briefly analyze how the FCC got into this quagmire in the first place. The FCC was, quite reluctantly, responding to a situation caused by the commission by 2 companies. One of those firms was AT&T. The dispute arose because AT&T had blocked the FCC from approving and subsequently killing, a brand new wireless transmission standard that would have let consumers pick their networks and carriers. In doing so, AT&T had effectively put the FCC in an uncomfortable position in which it needed to govern itself – or risk government sanctions and fines.
The FCC found that it had political courage and a few fantastic public-interest reasoning as it chose to move ahead and attack the AT&T plan. At the time, there were only a few of FCC commissioners (four, actually), and the FCC was under stress from the home and the White House to attack the carrier consortium that was attempting to kill the wireless revolution. The FCC also had to demonstrate that it had been independent of political influences and therefore didn’t have to consult with any external special interest groups before it required action. Each one these things gave the FCC a clear sense of direction.
In light of all of that, why are we even discussing the FCC? Are we still debating the merger of the cable television industry’s three biggest players? Well, the answer to this question is the cozy relationship between the FCC and the networking sector. That intimate connection gave us a free pass on a few of the oddest FCC decision making processes, which cost the agency credibility and made the people skeptical of the agency. That same skepticism is the reason that FCC was ready to bend the rules and threaten to penalize those who have been doing something they considered to be unethical.
Therefore, what exactly does this imply for the rest of us? That is easy: Any regulatory agency that want to serve the American men and women have to be strong in its reasoning and also have a solid record of enforcing law. The FCC doesn’t do well. For example, if the FCC wanted to preempt state laws requiring mandatory arbitration as a requirement for establishing satellite Internet contracts, it obviously would violate the First Amendment. If it attempted to preempt state legislation restricting campaign donations, which is also a common practice in our political system, it would face serious public support interest mavericks.
So, let’s hope the FCC will find out from the revolving door jumble, but do not hold your breath. The FCC can’t stop people from taking money from special interest groups anytime soon. The simple fact that the FCC chairperson along with her husband cashed in six occasions along with her son to do so is the best indication we need a watchdog with teeth just like the fox guarding the hen house. But that is not enough! We need a watchdog using brains, and not just a strong toothbrush.