Abolish the FCC? That’s what Lawrence Lessig of Stanford wants Obama to do, abolish it and build a new regulatory body from scratch. The article prompted the usual level of outrage (mostly in favor) across the blogosphere. After all, calls for the abolition of the FCC happen just about every year, all you have to do is a Google search to see that much. But the subject has extra meaning right now because of the coming Obama administration, which has publicly stated that access to broadband and internet policy will be a major focus area.
But how best to do that? It seems like every new initiative we hear proposed is simply a dollar sign, a few digits, and a B. You know, $740B, $40B, $80B – don’t think too hard, just throw money at it. But who do you throw money at to solve this problem? Verizon and AT&T have plenty of money, so does Comcast, and let’s not even talk about Google. Hell, even Clearwire has billions. It’s the banks and automakers that need money not telecom and internet. So why does the USA lag in broadband so embarrassingly? Because the structure of the entire industry is an outdated monster and nobody has the cajones to change its diaper, that’s why.
What I hope that Obama and his administration realize is this: the job of a regulatory body like the FCC should be to create a framework for the industry that are understandable and make sense, AND THEN DO NOTHING. Just step back and let us do the work, and tweak the system over time as technology evolves. The FCC Chairman should be an almost invisible government position, we shouldn’t even remember his name. The rules and regulations for telecom and the internet right now are not a framework for growth, not even remotely. No amount of money the government throws at the industry right now is going to change that. No resolutions, or tax cuts, or tax credits, or subsidies, or whatever else congress likes to pass are going to have an effect.
While it is easy to lay the blame on the FCC chairmen as many do (sometimes me), perhaps the main problem has been that such responsibility fell on their shoulders in the first place. One cannot give someone like Kevin Martin (or Michael Powell before him, or his predecessors) a job like the FCC Chairmanship and then turn one’s back on the whole sector, and expect them to then dismantle their own job. There has been little guidance from the rest of government to give the agency any purpose other than to dole out gifts and penalties to special interests, so that is what the FCC does. Actually doing the job it is theoretically tasked with would reduce its ability do that. How do you change such a system?
Maybe Lessig is right. Maybe it would be easier to just put it all in the incinerator and start again. The first step would be simple, and yet hard. We have to find someone who knows the industry, has the stature to change it, and is willing to go to Washington in order to eliminate his own job. Any takers?
I hereby nominate Lawrence Lessig. I mean, if one wants something done right, one has to do it oneself. The man wants a chainsaw, so hand him a chainsaw.
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