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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Filed Under: fcc, innovation, larry lessig, monopolies


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  1. identicon
    Mark Regan, 27 Dec 2008 @ 6:31pm

    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.

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