FCC and its Technological Advisory Council: Shut Them Down and Use the Money to Reduce Debt

by on October 22, 2010 · 10 comments

The Federal Communications Commission has established a new advisory group called the “Technological Advisory Council.” Among other things it will advise the agency on “how broadband communications can be part of the solution for the delivery and cost containment of health care, for energy and environmental conservation, for education innovation and in the creation of jobs.”

This is an agency that is radically overspilling its bounds. It has established goals that it has no proper role in fulfilling and that it has no idea how to fulfill. As we look for cost-cutting measures at the federal level, we could end the pretense that communications industry should be regulated as a public utility. Shuttering the FCC would free up funds for better purposes such as lowering the national debt or reducing taxes.

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Jim, I completely agree with you that the world would be a better place if we shut down the FCC (and, in my view, transfered its spectrum management functions to NTIA or an independent spectrum-equivalent of the Government Land Office and its consumer protection functions to the FTC).

    But as long as we're going to have the FCC, I don't see why having a Technological Advisory Council is a bad thing. I sit on the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, which provides official input from the affected community to the FAA's Officer of Commercial Space Transportation. So I've become rather familiar with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which governs such committees. While they may seem bureaucratic, they can also play a critical part in guiding agencies from technical and other perspectives.

    In short, I agree the FCC “has established goals that it has no proper role in fulfilling and that it has no idea how to fulfill.” But, in general, the way to make agencies less clueless is to establish proper channels for people who actually know what they're talking about to provide advice.

    As critics of the regulatory state, I think we need to be careful about not dismissing too readily every new appendage to that behemoth: Some of them might actually do some good. Whether this one will, in the end, I don't know, but at least in principle, it doesn't sound like such a bad idea. So I'm open to giving it a shot.

    Now, if there's an agency that needs a technical advisory committee, I'd say it's the FTC even more than the FCC!

  • Steve Crowley

    In addition to looking at specific actions by specific independent federal regulatory agencies, think tanks might look more generally at two related Constitutional issues. First, is it proper for Congress to delegate so much power to these agencies when in fact the people delegated members of Congress to handle these matters? Second, is it proper for these agencies to have, essentially, executive, legislative, and judicial powers combined?

    Regarding the TAC specifically, I approve. It will come up with some points of consensus on technical matters. This makes it harder for the Commission to first make decisions on a political basis, and then pick and choose the engineering it wants to support those decisions. Moreover, many trade groups involved in the TAC are headed by former politicians with no former industry experience. Their staff, in contrast, have that experience. The TAC shifts influence from the lobbying power of their heads to the substantive expertise of their staffs. This is good.

  • Jim Harper

    Indeed, this new accretion to the regulatory apparatus we don't need is only “wafer thin.” (See Creosote, Mr., in Python, Monty, Life, The Meaning of.)

  • Brett Glass

    Unfortunately, when it set up the TAC, the FCC declined to reimburse participants for travel expenses. Because travel to DC is so expensive, this means that only representatives of corporations with an interest in the outcomes of FCC proceedings, and/or academics who can get funding to attend (usually from the same corporations, who sponsor their work) can afford to participate. Thus, the TAC will not get independent input but will be yet another means for corporations to lobby the agency to make choices that are not in the public interest.

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