It was my pleasure this week to host a terrific panel discussion about the future of broadband policy and FCC reform featuring Raymond Gifford, a Partner at the law firm of Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP, Jeffrey Eisenach, a Managing Director and Principal at Navigant Economics and an Adjunct Professor at George Mason University Law School, and Howard Shelanski, Professor of Law at Georgetown Law School who previously served as Chief Economist for the Federal Communications Commission and as a Senior Economist for the President’s Council of Economic Advisers at the White House. We discussed two new papers by Gifford and Eisenach on these issues.
Gifford discussed his new Mercatus Center Working Paper on “The Continuing Case for Serious Communications Law Reform.” Gifford’s paper outlines what substantive FCC reform would entail and considers what antitrust agencies and enforcement can teach us about the way the FCC should work going forward. Eisenach discussed his important new paper on “Theories of Broadband Competition,” which similarly considers how competition oversight of broadband markets could be modeled after modern antitrust principles. Shelanski offered his thoughts on both papers. It was an interesting discussion and I encourage you to watch the entire thing.
During the discussion period, we debated the likelihood that serious communications policy / FCC reform could occur in the current political environment. I argued that the stars just don’t line up at this time to achieve such reforms. However, keep in mind that many deregulatory experiments in the past sometimes started slowly and then something sparked sudden action. Scholars have noted (see McCraw’s “Prophets of Regulation”) sometimes just a couple of key players (such as Alfred Kahn in the airline context) were able to change the underlying dynamics of deregulation very rapidly to push through long-lasting reforms.
The key difference between then and now, of course, is that, back then, liberal Democrats in Congress and the Carter Admin came to understand how regulation was having a deleterious impact on marketplace competition and consumer welfare. I simply cannot find a single Democrat who makes that same case today for the communications or media sectors. And if telecom / media reform remains a highly politically charged, partisan issue, then the hopes for reform remain quite slim. But I haven’t given up all hope just yet!
Anyway, watch the event video for more discussion on this matter.