Deregulation Is Double-Speak

John Anderson, of, notes that FCC Chief Commissioner Michael Powell has “outlined four goals he wants to see the FCC work toward when it comes to managing spectrum,” where #2 is to move a system of “market controlled” regulation. John says that reading that almost made him lose his lunch, and I’d agree with that sentiment. I’d also add a hearty, “What the fuck does that mean?” Really.

Simplistically, most mainstream economists view regulation as a way to effect corrections to the market — that is, to fix things when the market doesn’t work as their vaccuum-sealed formulas and theories predict and dictate. With that understanding, “market controlled” regulation is an utter oxymoron. Of course, out here in the real world, regulation is used for a variety of reasons, and just as often it’s used to create a competitive advantage in the market for one industry at the expense of another as it is used to curtail the unfairly gained monopoly power of a given company. As just one example, look at the curtailment of low-power FM — that’s the result of federal regulation used to benefit one industry — powerhouse commercial stations — at the expense of other players in the “market” — non-profit low-power community stations.

And, in fact, industry loves regulation. They adore it — they’d marry it if they could. Only so long as they can influence and manipulate it. Think about it — given the succession of super-deregulatory presidents, starting with Reagen, and deregulatory FCC chairs, like Michael Powell, why do we still have an FCC? Can I let you in on a little secret, it’s not about de-regulation.

Powell’s little Orwellian turn-of-phrase demonstrates the plan loud and clear. His real plan is that Communications regulation should be under the direct influence of the same players it regulates, or, as he calls it, “the market.” Those who have the power in “the market” have the regulatory power. Those who don’t have power are fucked. If Powell were really serious about deregulation, then he’d start packing up shop right now. He’d do every damn thing in his power to get the FCC to stop being the FCC. Sure, he’d work his way out of a job, but nobody’s FCC chair for more than 8 years or so.

Oh, but then he’d really be out of a job. Because when he’s finished being FCC chair, and there is no FCC, then there’s no reason for a big mega-broadcast co. to hire an FCC Chair as an “advisor” to work the machinations of the FCC. The emergence of a “free market” would put his type out of businees. Powell’s not that dumb.

The communications industry is scared of nothing more than a free market. A free market would decimate the local bell monopolies, would kill cable companies, and would decimate the broadcast industry. Every single one of these industries absolutely relies on the federal government to stake out boundaries and territories, allowing only a few to have such prizes as broadcast licenses, while keeping the millions of would-be competitors out. The last thing any commercial FM wants is for the FM band to double or triple in size letting a hundred more competitors onto the airwaves. Man, they need regulation to keep raking in those monopoly profits.

But, unfortunately for the industry, regulation is also occasionally a tool for reigning in corporate power or for pursuing something resembling the public interest. It’s these pesky regulations they’d love to do away with — but without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Don’t get fooled by the “free market” and deregulatory rhetoric. It’s bullshit. The plan is to simply hand over power currently held by government directly to industry, but still in the name of government — call it FCC Inc. Michael Powell, CEO.

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