Who Needs the FCC?

Few Americans are aware of just how much power the FCC has to regulate almost every aspect of communications in the United States. With a broad mandate to regulate the country’s communications networks according to the “public interest,” the FCC holds substantial power over the most innovative sectors of the US economy. The FCC has used this far-reaching authority to develop and enforce an arcane regulatory regime that harms competition in the communications and technology industries and threatens free speech. The FCC’s recent adoption of “net neutrality” regulations demonstrates its will continue to find new ways to exercise power in the Internet era.

The FCC’s expansive regulatory authority has led to what one scholar termed a regulatory “kludgeocracy”—an expansive system, updated only incrementally to deal with new issues, that is both opaque and prone to failure. For decades, the FCC’s ad hoc processes have harmed competition and weakened the First Amendment rights of US media. The FCC harms competition by compartmentalizing industries, delaying new technologies, and politicizing allocation of spectrum licenses. The FCC also threatens free speech through architectural censorship and government pressures on speech.

While the FCC pursues some worthwhile goals, it often arrives at either the wrong policy for achieving those goals or the right policy years too late. Reforming communications law will require two major policy changes including targeted, transparent subsidies, and reducing the FCC’s authority.

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