Beyond enforcing the antitrust laws, the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) advocates for competition policy in regulatory proceedings initiated by Executive Branch and independent agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In this role, the DOJ works with the FCC on mergers involving communications companies and occasionally provides input in other FCC proceedings. The historical reputation of the DOJ in this area has been one of impartial engagement and deliberate analysis based on empirical data. The DOJ’s recent filing (DOJ filing) on mobile spectrum aggregation jeopardizes that reputation, however, by recommending that the FCC “ensure” Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile obtain a nationwide block of mobile spectrum in the upcoming broadcast incentive auction.
Given the rate at which telephone companies are losing customers when they cannot raise prices as a regulatory matter, it is preposterous to continue presuming that they could raise prices as an economic matter.
Today, the United States Telecom Association (USTA) asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to declare that incumbent telephone companies are no longer monopolies. Ten years ago, when most households had “plain old telephone service,” this request would have seemed preposterous. Today, when only one in three homes have a phone line, it is merely stating the obvious: Switched telephone service has no market power at all.
The FCC already knows that plain old telephone service is no longer a “dominant” service (“dominance” is more likely when a service has a market share exceeding 60%). Last year, the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council found that the legacy, circuit switched telephone network “no longer functions as a universal communications infrastructure” and telephone service “does not provide anything close to the services and capabilities” of wired and wireless broadband Internet access services.
President Barack Obama has frequently claimed that he has no lobbyists working in his administration. But that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In fact, the Obama Administration is filled with lobbyists. And with the appointment of Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the communications and technology industries, it’s about to get another one.
Over at Reason, Peter Suderman explains that Wheeler, who will replace outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, was a top bundler for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns and he appears to have interest in seeing the role of the FCC expanded, which isn’t a good sign:
In Part 1 of this post, I described the history of government intervention in the funding of the Internet, which has been used to exempt commercial users from paying for the use of local Internet infrastructure. The most recent intervention, known as “net neutrality”, was ostensibly intended to protect consumers, but in practice, requires that consumers bear all the costs of maintaining and upgrading local Internet infrastructure while content and application providers pay nothing. This consumer-funded commercial subsidy model is the opposite of the approach the government took when funding the Interstate Highway System: The federal government makes commercial users pay more for their use of the highways than consumers. This fundamental difference in approach is why net neutrality advocates abandoned the “information superhighway” analogy promoted by the Clinton Administration during the 1990s.
Remember when the Internet was the “information superhighway”? As recently as 2009, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) still referred to the broadband Internet as, “the interstate highway of the 21st century.” Highways remain a close analogy to the Internet, yet by 2010, net neutrality advocates had replaced Internet highway analogies with analogies to waterworks and the electrical grid. They stopped analogizing the Internet to highways when they realized their approach to Internet regulation is inconsistent with government management of the National Highway System, which has always required commercial users of the highways to pay more for their use than ordinary consumers. In contrast, net neutrality is only the latest in a series of government interventions that have exempted commercial users from paying for the use of local Internet infrastructure.
I haven’t heard yet that SCOTUS has ruled on Obamacare, but in a bit of good news, the Federal Communications Commission can no longer fine broadcasters for obscenities and nudity:
The US Supreme Court has prohibited the FCC from imposing fines and sanctions for spoken obscenities and nudity on television in a ruling today. While the court didn’t tackle the constitutional validity of the FCC’s authority to set indecency rules, its decision shows that it has begun to back away from policies that were implemented prior to the ubiquity of media over the internet. Broadcast networks work under a set of indecency rules no internet outlet is required to consider because they use scarce public spectrum, and prior to today’s ruling, they faced severe penalties for airing curse words or nudity that violated the FCC’s policy.
This doesn’t mean that broadcasters will start worshipping at the feat of St. Carlin and drop f-bombs left and right, After all, they still have an audience to maintain, and many audiences frown on vulgarities and nudity (or at least, its inappropriate for said audience. Like many of my fellow United Liberty contributors. [Stop picking on Doug. - Editor]
Even so, despite whatever the hell Middleborough, Massachusetts thinks, there is absolutely no role for government to keep our mouths clean. Free speech, after all, is free speech, even if you don’t like it. And besides, when you consider that most youth can easily get porn and whatever on the Internet for free—yeah, your “parental controls” don’t really mean anything, because your kid knows about about hacking then you know about word processing, in all likelihood—the fines are sort of irrelevant.
Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico and current Republican presidential candidate, plans to file a complaint against CBS with the regulatory bodies — the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) — over being excluded from this GOP debate that took place on Saturday:
Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign is filing an official complaint with both the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over their candidate’s exclusion from the most recent GOP debate, Johnson’s campaign announced Tuesday.
Johnson’s complaint charges that debate sponsor CBS significantly contributed to the candidates who were allowed to participate in the debate, “directly and significantly supporting those candidates it favors, and advocating the nomination of one of their favorites and opposing the nomination of [Johnson], whom CBS evidently disfavors.”
Saturday’s debate, co-hosted by CBS and National Journal, was the first debate to air on broadcast television. According to Johnson’s complaint, “the public owns the airways over which CBS broadcasts, and the public deserves to be free from bias- favoring some candidates over others- as well as illegal support of certain presidential candidates on national network television.”
You can read the complaint here.
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” - John F. Kennedy
While the Left will no doubt endlessly whine about this, the FCC has finally done away with the Fairness Doctrine, a policy that was entirely inconsistent with the right to free speech:
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the elimination of 83 outdated and obsolete agency rules on Monday, including the controversial Fairness Doctrine.
“The elimination of the obsolete Fairness Doctrine regulations will remove an unnecessary distraction. As I have said, striking this from our books ensures there can be no mistake that what has long been a dead letter remains dead,” Genachowski said in a statement.
“The Fairness Doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago. I am pleased we are removing these and other obsolete rules from our books.”
The rule required broadcasters to cover controversial issues in a manner deemed fair and balanced by the FCC. The commission deemed it unconstitutional in 1987 and ceased enforcement.
No doubt you’ve heard about the events in Egypt. While the events over there should teach us about entangling alliances, it can also teach us about allowing government have power to cut, or at the very least severely limit, Internet access to citizens - a capability that some members of Congress are seeking for presidents (and recently reintroduced) during the time of crisis:
In response to civil unrest, the Egyptian government appears to have ordered service providers to shut down all international connections to the Internet. According to the blog post at the link just above, Egypt’s four main ISPs have cut off their connections to the outside world. Specifically, their “BGP routes were withdrawn.” The Border Gateway Protocol is what most Internet service providers use to establish routing between one another, so that Internet traffic flows among them.
The U.S. government has proposed both directly and indirectly to centralize control over U.S. Internet service providers. C|Net’s Declan McCullagh reports that an “Internet kill switch” proposal championed by by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) will be reintroduced in the new Congress very soon. The idea is to give “kill switch” authority to the government for use in responding to some kind of “cyberemergency.”
Below is a collection of several links that we didn’t get around to writing about, but still wanted to post for readers to examine. The stories typically range from news about prominent figures in the liberty movement, national politics, the nanny state, foreign policy and free markets.