Two of my favorite Members of Congress recently went toe-to-toe at a hearing on the FCC Process Reform Act. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) often agree on technology policy issues, but on the issue of whether and how to reform the FCC, they clearly disagree.
That’s not to say the hearing wasn’t illuminating, however. Here are some key takeaways:
General Thoughts from Eshoo and Walden
Rep. Eshoo called on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee to focus on shaping public policies that encourage private investment in communications infrastructure. She also highlighted the need for a renewed focus on job creation. It’s a common refrain from someone who truly understands the merits of a strong, vibrant Silicon Valley, and Rep. Eshoo should be applauded for maintaining her focus on jobs and the economy.
For his part, Rep. Walden warned that the FCC is “becoming more of a political institution and less an expert agency.” Given some of the Commission’s recent words and actions when it comes to spectrum screens, auctions, and secondary transactions, there is certainly some credence to Walden’s statement.
Some Smart Changes to the FCC
Former Commissioner Robert McDowell and George Washington University law professor Richard Pierce both testified that the FCC should be removed from the merger review process, thereby allowing experts at the Department Justice to maintain their role as the rightful authority on antitrust law. This sentiment echoes that of economist Hal Singer at a recent Silicon Valley public policy event, where he argued that the FCC should focus its efforts on protecting consumers.
Meanwhile, Harvard Business Review author Larry Downes testified that an agency like the FCC cannot easily “predict an increasingly unpredictable future,” especially in the technology sector. The FCC, he said, should not “design what it calls ‘prophylactic’ remedies for consumer harms that have yet to occur.” In other words, the Commission needs to stop trying to police potential problems before they happen, a la Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
Where the FCC Should Be Focused
The FCC has taken some small steps toward reform, such as speeding the process for secondary market transaction approvals — a welcome change in what has historically been a long, drawn-out process. But that’s not to say the Commission can slow down now—there is still work to be done to increase spectrum availability for mobile broadband for consumers and to prioritize the transition to next-generation advanced broadband networks.
The Issues in a Nutshell
It’s hard to disagree with Rep. Eshoo, who hit the nail on the head when she said, “Let’s work together to craft policies that will create jobs for innovators, promote investment in infrastructure across the country, and technological advances that help American families.”
Hopefully, when and if Tom Wheeler is confirmed as the next FCC Chairman, the Commission will work with all involved to do just that.