Lessig: Ditch The FCC, Replace It With Innovation Agency

from the stuff-to-think-about... dept

Larry Lessig has a piece in Newsweek suggesting that the new administration abolish the FCC and replace it with something he calls the Innovation Environment Protection Agency (iEPA) — whose purpose is less about control, and more about getting government out of the way when not necessary. The purpose of such an agency would be: “minimal intervention to maximize innovation,” with a core focus on keeping the government away from handing out favors and, more importantly, carefully reviewing any government monopolies to see if they cause net benefit or net harm. He starts off by talking about monopolies on things like spectrum, but says the agency can and should expand to cover monopolies such as copyright and patents.

There’s a lot to like in the proposal, in theory. One of my big problems with pretty much any government program is how little effort there is to actually look at the basic question of: is this doing what it’s supposed to do? And, if not, how do we change that? The GAO does a little bit in this area, but seems mostly powerless to actually effect change. Can you imagine if there were anyone in the government who was actually looking at some of the studies showing how much harm certain government-backed monopolies do to the economy — and had the power to do something about it? However, it seems quite likely that, in practice, the iEPA would simply get co-opted by industry types, just as the FCC has, and the end result would be pretty ineffectual, if not downright backwards looking. A government agency designed to get the government out of the way? Not sure it’s really possible…

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Comments on “Lessig: Ditch The FCC, Replace It With Innovation Agency”

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Mark Regan says:

The FCC is not a lost cause

Simply fire all the political types hired over the past 8 years and hire back actual RF engineers who know what the heck the mission of the FCC is. In other words, restore the REAL mission, that of regulating and coordinating the public airwaves.

Michael Powell and Kevin Martin and friends have, instead, used the agency to reward their political friends with decisions and frequencies worth BILLIONS of dollars. That is NOT the mission of the agency, but they did it anyway because the Republican Congress let them get away with it.

Now that the Democrats are back in control, it is time to reinstate true leaders in that agency who will be good custodians of the public’s airwaves, and restore our LEADERSHIP role in the communications revolution.

We need UNITERS who will take the best of the innovators from industry, and direct them into developing products that will HELP the public become more efficient and productive.

It would also be nice to have someone who can take the antiquated Amateur Radio Service and give the proper guidance to LEAD it in to the future, to make it a RESOURCE to the Homeland Security Agency and National Weather Service and to also be a testing ground for new and innovative products.

Bunny says:

In Corporationland only corporations innovate

It’s true this won’t make any difference.

Under this guise, all of the public frequencies could be given away to corporations if by definition only corporations innovate. Lobbyists will fight tooth and nail to get a favorable definition of innovation, and then whomever is in the agency will have to work within those guidelines. Anyone outside of a corporation who innovates will be branded an unregistered innovator, evil hacker, or worse, and then the agency will enforce laws against interference by, for example, P2P software. The future Steve Wozniaks of the world will never fulfill their dreams.

Ham radio operators would not be welcome during emergencies any more because they don’t innovate, they just practice a hobby which happens to save lives. Their frequencies will thus be given away so that people can watch more brain-rotting infomercials on yet another digital subchannel or, in the best case, a filtered, censored internet connection that will go down in any disaster. The DHS doesn’t trust random do-gooders anyway as it suspects them all of being terrorists, which is much different from the people working for them who would never do anything malicious or stupid like give away nuclear missile secrets.

I give it three months for the lobbyists to breach the walls.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: stop the shilling!!!

Let’s do away with all property rights

Uh, you should try reading. You come here all the time and yell “stop the shilling” but haven’t once actually bothered to respond to what we write.

No one is saying get rid of property rights at all. We’re huge fans of property rights — where they make sense. And that’s on rivalrous goods.

The point that is being made here is not to get rid of property rights at all, but to look at whether they make sense for things that are nonrivalrous. Hell, Lessig isn’t even saying to get rid of them outright, but just to study where they make sense and where they don’t.

Are you saying that even looking to see if they don’t make sense is a bad thing?

Jonathan Lang (user link) says:

Sounds very nice......

I think I agree with Mike’s point made in the second paragraph of his post here, in that I see no reason why this iEPA would not become a tool of whichever corporation or industry group happens to lobby its members best, just like the FCC is. Mr. Lessig describes his iEPA as consisting of “a staff absolutely barred from industry ties.” Well how exactly would that be accomplished? I mean, we could try to make sure its members aren’t getting any incentives while they are a part of the iEPA, and pay more attention to where they worked before they join the iEPA, but the main lobbying tool used with the FCC seems to be providing its members lucrative jobs or incentives AFTER they leave the FCC. How exactly could something like that be prevented?

I think what Mr. Lessig is suggesting sounds like a great idea, be it through changes in the FCC or adoption of a new organization entirely, but rather than just saying “the old system doesn’t work, let’s make a new system that works,” we need to be looking more at how the old system went wrong in the first place and how that can be addressed, otherwise we’ll eventually be right back where we are today.

gene_cavanaugh (user link) says:

Government office to protect innovation

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely – such an office, if it tried to do anything, would be overridden by special interests in Congress.
Best thing is to educate voters, and have them force Congress to do the right thing.
Too many people don’t want to vote because they don’t want to feel guilty if they put the wrong person in office, and are “too busy” to figure out who would be the right person.

DMNTD says:

smaller gov'

This IMHO is on the right track…is it because it has AGENCY in the acronym that it has to be part of the government? Blah…the less gov’ the better and you know it. WHY? cause nothing can be DONE to these !FEDERAL hijackers..once its in place your screwed until you have the money or suck the right acronym off, or the system falls apart like Rome.

Mark Regan says:

Response to Eleete

What are you talking about? The FCC doesn’t regulate the entertainment business. The link you provided deals with contributions made by the entertainment industry (movies, music, television content producers). These are traditionally Democratic industries NOT regulated by the FCC but instead, by their audiences, who do the true rankings of their content.

The FCC deals with LICENSING of FREQUENCIES and for the past eight years has shown FAVORITISM to certain industries at the expense of others. Those favored industries are predominantly owned by Republicans, and the past eight years have seen the swine feeding at the public trough. Did contributions to Democrats skyrocket during this period (the Bush Predency)? Sure, because the PEOPLE of this country are not STUPID. They RESENT the theft and sale of their public airwaves to “favored” interests under the guise of “keeping taxes down.”

Now, instead of paying fair taxes, I and MILLIONS of other rural Americans, have to buy expensive towers and antennas and digital converters simply to WATCH TELEVISION on the PUBLIC AIRWAVES — which we used to be able to do for FREE until George Bush and Kevin Martin SOLD them to their buddies.

You see, here in the rural America the Republicans CLAIM FALSELY to care about, our access to FREE over the air television will end in just over a month, thanks to Mr. Bush.

The political appointees installed at the FCC by Bush fail to understand the realities of RF propagation — the digital signals simply will not reach from many of the transmitters into the heartland of our country, and the country-club set of Republicans simply do not care that our access to news and weather will be CUT OFF in just over one month because of the nefarious and deceptive policies of OUR government which for the past eight years has ignored the rights of the public.

When was the public notified of an opportunity to contest the impending decision? Why did Chairman Martin LIE repeatedly to Congress when questioned about the impact of his policies on the rural areas of America? He spoke in terms of percentages of people (15%) affected (most people who live in or near big cities will not be affected) instead of answering the question with respect to the AREAS to be affected (in excess of 25%).

I did not say Democratic politicians are innocent. But they DO stick up for the little guy more than the current administration has done for the past eight years. Theft of public airwaves is not too dissimilar from theft of MONEY, yet you will not see any prosecution of the offenders in court, because it was ENCOURAGED by OUR government’s employees and political hacks. I call them traitors to the Constitution. Due process and equal rights were trampled in the rush to reward “certain” companies feeding at the public trough.

The same thing happened with contractors during the Iraq War and during the Hurricane Katrina response. But those are other issues for other discussions. What has happened is part of what lawyers call a PATTERN AND A PRACTICE of violating the constitution and denial of rights under COLOR OF LAW in order to unlawfully benefit “certain” favored groups of our society at the expense of others. THAT is what the Obama administration will correct.

eleete (user link) says:

Re: Response to Eleete

” The FCC doesn’t regulate the entertainment business. “
Really ? I think someone better tell them that.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC’s jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions.

Exactly what gets broadcast over those mediums ? How can you fine Fox based on the content of a broadcast if you simply regulate frequencies?

From there your argument rambles on about republicans bad, democrats good ! But the classic statement is that very last sentence. Who needs free tv when that kool aid is just so damn good. If you think he will bring “change” by introducing the same ole names in Washington, then keep doing what you are doing and expect something different.

It is plain to see that BOTH parties are out for their own interests. They BOTH have failed us over the last 8 years and they pit us against one another to create the illusion of a right and wrong side of each argument. Your disdain for myself and my thoughts are proof that you’re feeding right off the teet that is destroying our nation. Rather than wasting time on my comment, you should be challenging Pelosi and Hilldog to do the right things, or are they doing a perfect job?

Now go on and ramble about how the republicans are holding them back and they can’t do what is right for their constituents because Bush is an awful human being. Before you get too far, rest assured, I did not vote republican/McCain. You are sadly mislead if you believe one party over the other on any issue. They are polluticians and what they do best is lie, and take money for their own gain. Anyone who evangelizes them (on either side) does not have the sense to deal with reality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Response to Eleete

Exactly what gets broadcast over those mediums ? How can you fine Fox based on the content of a broadcast if you simply regulate frequencies?

The mistake you’re making is thinking that the entertainment industry is limited to those areas regulated by the FCC. That’s akin the mistake some people make in thinking that “music industry” is the same thing as “record companies”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Response to Eleete

I make no such mistake.

Are you the one who wrote

” The FCC doesn’t regulate the entertainment business. “
Really ? I think someone better tell them that.

or was that a different eleete? Or are you just saying that it wasn’t a mistake thinking that the entertainment industry is limited to those areas regulated by the FCC?

Mark Regan says:

Re: Re: Response to Eleete

Yes, I did say the FCC doesn’t regulate the entertainment business, and the FCC knows that they do not and they do not even try to do that.

The entertainment business is the content related material (shows, movies, etc.) created by various production companies and aired on the broadcast or cable FREQUENCIES.

The FCC regulates only those FREQUENCIES, licensing the towers and transmitters and station owners and operators, NOT the content or the content providers.

When you read about a particular enforcement action involving content (eg. Janet’s Jackson’s “garment mishap”) they are NOT disciplining Janet or the producers of the event in which she appeared. They are disciplining the TELEVISION stations who are licensed to broadcast whatever they want provided it does not contain any obscenity. It is the obscenity they are fining the stations for. If they don’t put on anything obscene, they can show what they want. (Although there is a minor rule about children’s shows too.)

The FCC, again, has NOTHING to do with licensing or regulating CONTENT of entertainment or news or any other aspect of the contents of a broadcast. Perhaps that is one reason why our media offerings are a vast wasteland, but we wouldn’t want our government regulating entertainment anyway.

Neither is the body independent. The majority of the appointments of commissioners are made by the incumbent President, and they generally follow his wishes with respect to licensing matters. (ie. REWARDING his friends with contracts and frequencies and looser regulations.)

Cities and states regulate the cable companies. The FCC only regulates the interstate aspects of their services (that is, the FREQUENCIES they use — again not the CONTENT.) For example, if their signal escapes from the cable out into the air, the FCC then has jurisdiction to shut them down. They cannot and do not regulate what they show as entertainment — because they have NO jurisdiction over content inside that cable.)

Same thing with satellites. They regulate only the FREQUENCIES, not the content

If a particular licensee is fined, it is NOT for any non-obscene content related matter. It is likely for a violation of frequency stability, power excesses, tower lighting, allowing obscene images or words to be transmitted, etc.

Their power is to fine the station owners or take away the station licenses. They do NOT fine for any content related matters except obscenity.

They don’t even have a department or office that looks at these matters. A citizen (or another licensee) has to complain before they will look into and document a violation of their regulations.

Is their enforcement political? Yes, for the past 8 years, it HAS been. Not so much before that. Do both political parties AND lobbyists push them toward certain decisions? Yes, and that is why they are SUPPOSED to and prior to this administration, usually did, regulate and decide ONLY the technical issues involved, and allow the congress to address the political questions. But this administration abused the normal process as a way to go around congressional intent and to curry favor with some industries who were on the RIGHT (Bush’s) side of issues.

Won’t Obama’s folks do the same thing? No, because his policies are “people” centered, not “corporation” centered. That is the difference between him and Bush.

Over the years, station ownership has been consolidated, and broadcasters are less oriented toward the local community and more oriented toward generating profits for stockholders. The FCC used to have regulations restricting the number of stations any one licensee could own.

On June 2, 2003, FCC Chairman Michael Powell removed most restrictions on station ownership without ANY public hearings. That is the Bush doctrine at work. Broadcast stations also NO LONGER have to act in the PUBLIC INTEREST on public airwaves. Since then is has been legal for them to act only in their CORPORATE INTERESTS.

This is but one example of my point. I have been licensed by the FCC in one way or another for most of the past 40 years, and do not make these accusations lightly. Bush has SERIOUSLY CORRUPTED the agency and CHANGED their mission from that of a regulatory agency to that of a MONOPOLISTIC CONVEYOR and FACILITATOR.

Sure, some entertainment companies have purchased broadcast stations and play their content on the frequencies which are licensed. But it is NOT the duty of the FCC to regulate that content and they do not.

Instead, the FCC has, for the past 8 years, presided over the wholesale abuse of their authority. Even some long-time staffers are embarrassed by his overtly political and biased decisions, and on at least one occasion, dressed in all black in protest.

I encourage you to read the 110 page Congressional Report issued THIS MONTH entitled “Deception and Distrust: The Federal Communications Commission Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin” which documents A FEW of the abuses.

Rod MacPherson says:

Re: Re: Response to Eleete


In case you can’t view the diagram in the link above,

The FCC regulates a spectrum this big:
TV is this big —
AM and FM radio broadcasting is this big –

All the rest of that spectrum is used by businesses (and amateurs) other than TV and Radio broadcasting. Ok, some of the other stuff is non-broadcasting use by those businesses (microwave uplinks to the satellites, etc) but there is a lot more non-entertainment transmissions out there than entertainment.

TDR says:

And this is why political parties need to be abolished – people and politicians become more concerned about their own and their party’s success and power than the needs of the citizens. And it’s because of political parties that we’re forced to choose between only two candidates for an office instead of everyone who chooses to run. Anyone at any economic level – not just the rich – should be able to have a realistic chance to be elected, with no financial or political barriers to that process. Politicians shouldn’t be paid much if at all, because they’re supposed to be public servants, not lazy rich cats.

Political parties cause divisiveness and fingerpointing and an “us. vs. them” attitude instead of the cooperative spirit that public servants ought to feel. George Washington knew what he was talking about when he warned us against having them during his farewell address after his second term as President – still the only President not to have been a part of a political party – but we didn’t listen. And every generation since then has suffered for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“And this is why political parties need to be abolished – people and politicians become more concerned about their own and their party’s success and power than the needs of the citizens”

What you are really talking about is a problem with democracy, not political parties. In a democracy an elected official has one primary goal . . . getting re-elected. The digusting abuses of the Bush administration leading up to 2004 is a perfect example of this. Politicians will almost always put thier own re-election ahead of anything else including the public interest and they would do so even if they were not part of a political party. Again the Bush Administration is a good example, they almost completely destroyed thier own party in order to maintain power.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“But without said parties and the inherent power bases and political machines behind them, individual politicians would be much less able to subvert the system. “

They dont subvert the system at all, go back to your Plato or Socrates, this is the inherent problem with democracy. The system is based on promising the most people the most stuff, it’s as simple as that. The system works exactly as it always has, in every democracy all through history, regardless of parties.

Anonymous Coward says:

I do not lay blame at the feet of the FCC, a quasi-executive body with executive rulemaking powers.

I do not lay blame at the feet of the executive. Its role is to implement laws emmanating from Congress, and in large measure its rulemaking authority is circumscribed by the Administrative Procedule Act.

I do lay blame at the feet of legislative bodies, be they state or federal. It is these bodies that enact the laws necessitating rulemaking by the executive. Likewise, they control the purse strings. If anything, I lay particular blame at those legislative bodies enacting ambiguous legislation and delegating needed “fill in the blanks” to the executive and the courts. I likewise lay particular blame at those legislative bodies who continually fail to carry out their important role as keepers of the “public purse”.

All branches of government to share blame to varying degrees, but it is clearly Congress that has dropped the ball by refusing to address perceived failures associated with executive rulemaking. After all, it is virtually impossible for an executive agency to function if Congress has zeroed the agency’s budget.

Twinrova says:

FCC=Favoring Corporate Changes

Last year, I wrote the FCC regarding the amount of television ads now appearing. I was told the FCC does not regulate advertising, except to monitor specific ads during childrens’ broadcasting.

Since then, I’ve given up on the FCC of regulating anything, and having a new oversight committee to ensure the FCC is doing its job will only waste taxpayer money.

The FCC needs to be redefined with its original purpose and that is to regulate communications throughout the United States. Kevin Martin must go, especially now that it’s been proven he’s abused the power of the FCC.

It is also a fact the FCC has favored corporate requests rather than understanding the implications of such requests. Now, the FCC has no power and all “regulation” is done through lawsuits regarding patent infringement.

So, Larry Lessig, I must disagree with your “fix” and rather you focus on ways to restore the FCC, not replace it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Observations, nothing more than observations

Wow. Is your expectation a larger, more bureaucratic government? That’s insane.

There are several incongruencies worth noting. What happened with CBS/Superbowl was sad, no doubt. But after reviewing the time-line can we determine multiple things. First off, consider Michael Powell was FCC chairman at the time when the Mardi Gras event occurred, but Martin oddly let CBS off with a slap on the wrist.

Few remember that the event occurred shortly after the time which Michael Powell famously said he would have a hard time seeing the nation’s 2nd largest and 3rd largest telecommunications companies combining.

I recall MTV, the producer, had a call for action that indicated “something big” was going to happen during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show broadcast. Oddly, this news release was pulled down hours before the halftime show.

Can you prove anything? Who knows and who cares. Under Bush, it seems it was all about taking care of his buddies. Considering the IQ of GW Bush seems to be somewhere around freezing temperature, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the two events of non-conformance to an AT&T+SBC+BLS Merger and Boobies on primetime were related, but I have no proof except downstream effects: Michael Powell was quickly escorted out for a “Yes Man” named Martin, whose first order of business was to approve an AT&T+BLS+SBC merger. They later “Happy Birthday” sung to him. Oh yes, Stanley T. Sigman also decided to retire.

fred says:

Oh Boy - Another Agency Shell Game

We had an Agency Shell Game with the last administration – it was called the Department of Homeland Security.

Rearranging the chairs on the deck simply puts them in a different arrangement. What matters is the captain of the ship. For the past 8 years we have had morons for captains who did not believe in the work of the govt agencies – and when you have leadership that does not believe in govt agency work – then you get disfunctional FCC’s and FEMAs.

The Obama’s believe in the govt agencies. Rearranging the chairs on the deck will simply get the way of the work at hand – trying to keep the ship from sinking.

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