The FCC fails consumers on broadband, media concentration
The Federal Communications Commission is failing consumers on wireless and broadband issues, media concentration and cross-ownership. Time for the Obama administration to live up to its campaign rhetoric.
AT the very least, the Federal Communications Commission is remarkably consistent. The agenda for Tuesday's meeting features the same timid fare one has come to expect from the commissioners.
Given the challenges and opportunities facing the nation's wireless and broadband industry and the consumer environment it drives, more is expected and desired. That's especially the case with turnover of the U.S. House of Representatives to regulatory-shy Republicans on the horizon.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski seeks to avert a "looming spectrum crisis" by luring TV broadcasters to surrender a share of their airwaves in exchange for a ration of the sale proceeds to mobile carriers.
With a nation forgoing TV watching for online video and all manner of wireless applications, the opportunity for a fresh revenue stream might be compelling for broadcasters.
Concern about available spectrum has others in government, notably the Commerce Department, looking for ways to slice and dice the ether. Those are worthy, practical tasks, but the FCC has more basic issues it has avoided with Genachowski in charge.
The FCC should assert its fundamental authority over broadband by reclassifying wireless services into the same public-utility realm of telephone service. Use existing authority under the Communications Act, instead of dreamily expecting Congress to create a special regulatory niche.
Looking to Capitol Hill after January for leadership and guidance on broadband and media issues is a futile gesture. GOP lawmakers have long refused to enhance the FCC's regulatory presence.
The irony, of course, is that fundamental opportunities open to Genachowski and the FCC have resounding populist themes. If the conventional wisdom is the House changed political direction to protect and respect We, the People, nothing is more relevant than net neutrality.
Net neutrality is the rule that owners of the Internet's infrastructure treat all content equally. The industry thrived under that ethic, but there is intense pressure from the biggest players to create tiered rates and tinker with speed and delivery for those willing to pay a premium.
Democrats made a halfhearted attempt to pass a net-neutrality bill, but it failed to draw any Republican support. The failure of Genachowski and his patron in the White House to work it harder is a missed opportunity that will haunt broadband consumers.
The FCC is expected to vote on reclassifying broadband in December. Genachowski likely has the votes of the other two Democrats on the commission. Their votes are not all he will need. The chairman will need their support to stand up to the telecommunication companies.
President Obama's FCC continues to disappoint on another bedrock topic, media consolidation. His predecessors, Presidents Clinton and Bush, enabled devastating consolidation of radio stations, newspapers and broadcast outlets.
Cable giant Comcast's pursuit of NBC Universal is drawing belated attention. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken wants the Justice Department antitrust division to look harder at the proposed $30 billion deal in light of "premature" announcements about management appointments for NBC execs in the new company.
Media concentration has consequences beyond economic factors. Cross-ownership of the nation's media stifles aggressive journalism and limits public access to competing, independent voices and points of view.
The FCC is the gatekeeper for market-defining rules that can prevent the corrosive effects of media consolidation and cross-ownership.
A string of missed opportunities, and complete lack of follow-through, defines the timid agenda of the FCC, and exposes the empty campaign rhetoric of President Obama on a vital topic.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.