EnlargeStephen D. Melkisethian
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A Donald Trump advisor who will help set a new direction for the Federal Communications Commission recently argued that most of the FCC should be eliminated.
The commission’s role as an independent agency remains important in one area: licensing radio spectrum, Trump advisor Mark Jamison argued in a blog post last month titled, “Do we need the FCC?” That’s because political interference in spectrum licenses would dampen investment “and could lead to rampant corruption in the form of valuable spectrum space being effectively handed out to political cronies,” he wrote.
But the other functions of the FCC could be eliminated entirely or handed off to other agencies, Jamison wrote:
Any legitimate universal service concerns could be handled by others: States can subsidize network access as they see fit, the Department of Health and Human Services can incorporate telecommunications and Internet into its assistance to low-income households, and the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] and states can handle consumer protection and ex post regulation.
A much smaller independent agency could be created to license radio spectrum, where a spectrum license would be a property right for use and not about content. (The license holder could lease its space to others or use it itself for content or other services.)
Thus, at the end of the day, we don’t need the FCC, but we still need an independent agency.
Jamison is one of two officials appointed by President-elect Trump to advise him on the FCC during the presidential transition. Jamison is a visiting fellow at the Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and a professor and director of the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida. Jamison also used to manage regulatory policy at Sprint.
Jamison is an opponent of net neutrality rules, we noted in a story yesterday. His arguments for dramatically scaling back the FCC were pointed out in a Washington Post article. Jamison told the Post that current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler “has allowed politics to ‘infiltrate the FCC a lot more than is necessary.'”
Most of the original reasons for having an FCC have gone away because “Telecommunications network providers and ISPs are rarely, if ever, monopolies,” and in cases where they are monopolies, they can be regulated by the FTC and states, Jamison wrote in his blog post on whether the FCC is still necessary.
The FCC’s oversight of broadcasters isn’t needed anymore because “content on the Web competes well with content provided by broadcasters,” he wrote.
Besides inertia and the difficulty of dissolving a federal agency, the FCC still exists because it “is valuable to businesses and interest groups that are benefitting from its activities: The recent work on net neutrality, business data services, and set-top boxes are bestowing benefits to some segments of the industry at the expense of other segments, and at the expense of customers, who ultimately bear the brunt of regulatory rent-seeking,” he wrote.
In other recent blog posts, Jamison criticized Wheeler’s leadership and argued that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s push to provide universal broadband with subsidies “would be a drag on the economy.”
In 2013, Jamison argued that seeking consumer input in the regulatory process can be harmful, claiming that “Public discussion inhibits open dialogue.”
The FCC is required to seek public comment before issuing new regulations; net neutrality rules passed under Wheeler were influenced by 4 million public comments, most of them supporting stronger regulation of ISPs.
Wheeler obviously would disagree with Jamison’s stance that the FCC should be dramatically scaled back. With the Democratic chairman on his way out, Wheeler urged Trump to protect consumers and “the broader common good” instead of doing the bidding of “incumbents preferring the status quo.” Wheeler has also justified new regulations by saying there isn’t enough competition in the US Internet market, with most customers having at best one choice for a provider offering modern broadband speeds.