Bridge Span 13-9: New Processes for the FCC?

Later today the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will be conducting a hearing titled, “Improving FCC Process.”  The panel is a good one and includes several people I respect for their opinions and insight into communications policy.  You can get more details about the hearing here (

However, the challenge for this hearing is to move beyond the title, to make sure that where the FCC needs fixing that it gets fixed, but that time and consideration are also dedicated to looking at what the FCC does not need to be doing and address those issues as well.  The better hearing title might have been “What Should the FCC Be Processing?”

There is little doubt that regulators do play a role in the communications world, particularly in light of the City of Arlington case. ( But even beyond that charge of filling in the gaps not clearly and precisely covered by legislation regulators have a role, but it is not the same one that has been pursued for decades, and why would it be?  As technology advances at an ever increasing rate why would anyone believe that regulations from even a decade ago are still unquestionably sound policy?  Moreover, too often regulation is designed to advantage one company or industry over another which is bad enough, but the thoughtless approach is compounded as innovation lurches forward bringing in new competitors while other competitors and industries fade away.

In general then, regulators should be in the business of looking for any innovation slowing obstacles and pulling them out by the roots.  FCC Commissioner Pai just put it this way, “Governments at all levels should guard against this tendency by prioritizing innovation and removing unnecessary regulations that burden risk-taking entrepreneurs. If regulators took this approach, we’d make it easier for creative start-ups”

Some refer to this approach as a regulatory “light touch” but it is something more profound.  Communications industry regulators need to reinvent themselves and their roles, finding ways to constantly innovate and improve, following the example of the companies who they regulate.

Speaking of examples, regulators should stop imitating the political game playing of the legislative or executive, and instead hew to the facts.  A recent case in point, as written about last week ( is the FCC’s upcoming Seventeenth Mobile Wireless Competition Report.  Rather than just refusing to answer whether the wireless industry is competitive the FCC should give up its years long game, take a look at the facts (its own data), and be forthright.  The FCC’s own data presented in past annual reports proves the industry’s success showing ever increasing numbers of consumers choosing from an ever greater variety of smartphones, served up with an ever greater variety of service plans.  Prices are dropping even as wireless operators invest billions in private capital annually to make their systems even better.

Communications industry regulators of all stripes could improve by channeling their energies into updating the entire notion of regulating rather than fighting to cling to decades-old thinking of the role of regulators.  Perhaps the hearing today can be a start down a new path to greater innovation.

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