Lawrence Lessig: It’s Time To Eliminate The FCC

Dec 24th, 2008 | By | Category: General

Newsweek has a great feature today by Creative Commons guru Lawrence Lessig that argues that it’s time to kill off the FCC:

Born in the 1930s, at a time when the utmost importance was put on stability, the agency has become the focal point for almost every important innovation in technology. It is the presumptive protector of the Internet, and the continued regulator of radio, TV and satellite communications. In the next decades, it could well become the default regulator for every new communications technology, including, and especially, fantastic new ways to use wireless technologies, which today carry television, radio, internet, and cellular phone signals through the air, and which may soon provide high-speed internet access on-the-go, something that Google cofounder Larry Page calls “wifi on steroids.”

If history is our guide, these new technologies are at risk, and with them, everything they make possible. With so much in its reach, the FCC has become the target of enormous campaigns for influence. Its commissioners are meant to be “expert” and “independent,” but they’ve never really been expert, and are now openly embracing the political role they play. Commissioners issue press releases touting their own personal policies. And lobbyists spend years getting close to members of this junior varsity Congress. Think about the storm around former FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s decision to relax media ownership rules, giving a green light to the concentration of newspapers and television stations into fewer and fewer hands. This is policy by committee, influenced by money and power, and with no one, not even the President, responsible for its failures.

The solution here is not tinkering. You can’t fix DNA. You have to bury it. President Obama should get Congress to shut down the FCC and similar vestigial regulators, which put stability and special interests above the public good. In their place, Congress should create something we could call the Innovation Environment Protection Agency (iEPA), charged with a simple founding mission: “minimal intervention to maximize innovation.” The iEPA’s core purpose would be to protect innovation from its two historical enemies—excessive government favors, and excessive private monopoly power.

Lessig’s call is radical, but he makes a convincing argument that an entrenched bureaucracy like the FCC is  as much a barrier to innovation as it is a driver. Lessig also points out the government should pay more attention to the monopolies that regulation creates and consider whether they are beneficial and who they are beneficial to. 

I don’t see Obama gutting the FCC – but let’s hope that his government has the will to give it a top-to-bottom review.

Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “Lawrence Lessig: It’s Time To Eliminate The FCC”

  1. Hear, hear. Both the FCC and our copyright laws are outdated — but the former much moreso than the latter, IMO. Thanks for posting.

  2. strangemore says:

    Copyright needs to move back to its original concept – it’s gotten totally out of hand. I’m not sure about gutting the FCC – you need to have some order in how the airwaves are used – but it’s time to open up a bit to allow for innovation.

Leave a Reply