The National Broadband Plan debate has given rise to claims that the FCC intends to go beyond its traditional regulatory mandate and begin to aggressively refashion the Internet in such a way as to achieve particular social ends. As a case in point, today the FCC announced that is going to assert sweeping authority to begin to subject broadband networks to an outdated, decades-old regulatory framework.
So how should one view the recent comments by one FCC commissioner who would be exercising these new and expanded powers, Commissioner Copps, when he addressed the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies?
Throughout his comments he bemoaned the fact that broadband is not yet available to every American (even though electricity and telephone took decades longer to reach the near ubiquity we have today). Additionally, he fretted over whether various constituencies were “really being heard–like big corporate sites,” whatever that means.
But those comments alone are not all that surprising or that interesting. The concern comes in Mr. Copps’ presumed solution: to support “old media” models in the digital age. To do so, Mr. Copps suggests that the FCC pry “open doors of opportunity,” and that the “communications and infrastructure” (which is more than 90 percent private and paid for with private risk capital) be made to “serve[s] our democracy.”
Sounds like the heavy hand of government control stifling private investment and innovation.
But the reasoning to support such an approach is, at best, muddled. In the old media world, messages were heavily controlled by a very small number of entities. And not just how the message was delivered but whether certain items “made the news” at all. Even today network news and large newspapers operate in a similar way. So, in sum, companies owned the content and the means of transmission.
In the “new media” world companies own the means of transmission and others might own the content, but individuals of all persuasions, beliefs and motivations are crafting the messages they send to an audience that largely opts-in to the experience. So, today there are many more media providers and thus more choices and options for consumers.
Let’s hope that the Copps’s show never becomes our reality TV.
Today’s TechByte was written by Bartlett D. Cleland, director of IPI Center for Technology Freedom.