One of America's leading authorities on technology and telecom policy, Motley is a writer, television and radio commentator, political and policy strategist, lecturer, debater, activist, and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.
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The Federal Communications Commission should be closed forever in 2018. But first, nigh all of what President Obama’s FCC spent the last eight years doing should be undone.
The very fact that the Obama FCC spent so much time unilaterally power grabbing things to do only demonstrates that the commission doesn’t really have anything legitimate to do, and thus no longer has any reason to exist.
After executing the huge Network Neutrality power grab, current Obama FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler ridiculously uttered: “We are going to be sued. That’s the history. Every time in this whole discussion any time the commission has moved to do something, one of the big dogs has gone to sue…. We don’t want to ignore history.”
This is as untrue as it is amazingly un-self-aware. First, one big dog didn’t sue to contest that particular grab – nearly a dozen dogs of assorted sizes did. Second, the FCC moves on all sorts of things over which no one sues, and for which all the dogs have nothing but praise.
The FCC gets sued when the FCC overreaches its very limited legal authority. The fact that Wheeler has been so myopically fixated on doing that is the reason he gets sued so frequently.
Idle bureaucrat hands are the devil’s playground. This FCC has been a veritable devil’s Disneyland. So to paraphrase Jesse Jackson: End it, don’t mend it.
There is, of course, a Washington, D.C. reality to face, which the late, great Ronald Reagan astutely summarized: “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.”
President-elect Trump has spoken about closing the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. He absolutely should close both, as an appetizer. We would like to see an all-you-can-eat closure buffet. We would begrudgingly settle for a twelve-course meal, just so long as the FCC is somewhere on the menu.
The FCC was birthed in 1926 as the Federal Radio Commission. The FRC’s main gig was to “regulate radio use ‘as the public interest, convenience, or necessity’ requires.”
Prior to the FRC’s creation, this was the responsibility of the Department of Commerce and Labor. We mention this to point out: After we close the FCC, what few actual, necessary functions it today performs can be reassigned to the Commerce Department. Or to one or many of the other approximately nine trillion other agencies that continue to exist.
The FRC immediately did what it was supposed to do: “conduct a badly needed reallocation of (radio) frequencies.” Determining who would operate where on the radio dial. Once that was done, really the only thing left for the FRC to do was renew station licenses when they expired – which as everyone knows is nigh always a pro forma exercise.
The FRC pretty much could have closed right then, and its licensing responsibilities handed (back) to the Commerce Department. But this is DC. So the FRC was not only continued – it was expanded.
Congress in 1934 transmogrified the FRC into with what we’re now stuck – the FCC. It’s mission per the 1934 Communications Act is: “make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nationwide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges….for the purpose of the national defense…(and) for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.”
That covers radio and telephones. Broadcast radio is free, as “reasonable” as “charges” can get. And uber-cheap landline phone lines nevertheless begat one of the longest running, cost-overrunning government boondoggles ever – the billions-of-dollars-per-annum FCC Lifeline program.
Which was charged with guaranteeing landline “universal service” – but after more than half a century peaked at just over ninety percent before declining rapidly as cellular phones began rendering landlines obsolete.
In fact, private sector cell phones have already reached nearly universal service. That happened privately, without government. But did that stop the FCC? Of course not. The Commission unilaterally transmogrified the Lifeline program into one also subsidizing cell phones. Once again lamely chasing relevancy, very poorly, with our money, and without Congress.
Concurrent with the explosion of the private sector cell phone was the revolution that is the private sector Internet to which cell phones provide access, as do private hardline providers. The latter – privately, all by themselves – delivered their exponentially-more-expensive-service to a greater percentage of people than the government’s landline program ever did.
But did that stop the FCC? Of course not. The commission again unilaterally transmogrified the Lifeline program into one also subsidizing Internet service. Yet again lamely chasing relevancy – very poorly, with our money, without Congress.
Meanwhile, throughout the Obama administration, this completely pointless commission kept unilaterally grabbing power over things – to which they have zero legislative tether. Time after time lamely chasing relevancy – very poorly, with our money, without Congress.
As with the ridiculous Lifeline program, the FCC’s attempts to “help” are doing lasting damage to the sectors being “helped.” Reminding us of another outstanding Reagan observation: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”
It is decades past time to shutter the FCC. Let’s keep it open one more year to undo the damage done during the last eight. And then shut it down so as to save us from all of its unilateral, overreaching, power grabbing, egregiously damaging “help.”
We can absolutely find someone else somewhere in DC’s vast Acronym Land to renew radio licenses. And if we insist, as DC always does, continue to waste billions and billions of dollars per annum on Lifeline.
If we’re going to continue to waste massive money, we should at least consolidate its mis-execution.
[Originally Published at the Hill]