Lessig and Corruption at the FCC

by on October 4, 2007 · 4 comments

Larry Lessig links to news that FCC insiders leaked details of forthcoming decisions to industry insiders in violation of the rules. He is justifiably outraged at the way the FCC has apparently abused the public trust for the benefit of the deep-pocketed interests that wield the most clout in telecom regulation. Administrators who break the law should be fired, and perhaps prosecuted in particularly egregious cases. I think it’s great that Lessig is highlighting these sorts of problems, and I’m looking forward to seeing his proposals for reducing this kind of corruption.

But I also think it’s worth keeping in mind that the odds are very long. This is not a new problem. Government regulators have been doing the bidding of industry incumbents for almost as long as they’ve been in existence. Reformers have been trying to clean up corrupt regulatory agencies for decades, and so far the only reliable way they’ve discovered to clean up a regulatory agency is to abolish it completely.

Which isn’t to say that we should stop trying. On the margins, it is possible to make government more transparent and accountable, and I expect Lessig will use his considerable intellect to come up with some innovative ways of doing that. But in the meantime, we should keep in mind that government agencies don’t work the way they’re described in high school civics classes. They are, in fact, dominated by industry incumbents who are experts at twisting the rules to their advantage, to the detriment of both competitors and consumers. And as long as that’s true, we should be wary of giving it more power over anything, especially over a disruptive technology like the Internet.

Previous post:

Next post: