Time to Create Model Digital Age Agency, May Writes
WASHINGTON D.C. - It won't be enough to simply re-write the nation's communications laws - something Congress is preparing to do - because the very institution that oversees those laws needs to be reinvented. That is the view of a legal and policy expert who is giving voice to those who hope the Federal Communications Commission can be slimmed down, with its decision-making authority consolidated and made politically accountable.
In an article published this week by the National Law Journal, "Consolidate FCC Power," Progress & Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow and Director of Communications Policy Studies Randolph J. May writes that "drawbacks tied to its institutional legacy" made implementation of the 1996 Telecommunications Act "problematic" and put a damper on growth of the digital economy.
"This time, in addition to providing more specific deregulatory direction in tune with today's competitive marketplace realities, Congress should radically reform the institution that implements the law," May writes. "It is time for Congress to reinvent the FCC." He argues that the agency "regularly issues muddled, fractious decisions that take many months, or years, to produce and they are frequently overturned in court." Major proceedings that impact economic growth "drag on interminably" and are "in a constant state of flux." Rather than "fostering investment and innovation, FCC actions have done just the opposite."
According to May, since 1999 when then-FCC Chair William Kennard predicted that in five years "the FCC as we know it today will be very different in both structure and mission," the agency's budget has grown by more than half and it has more employees. "Congress should decrease the FCC's budget and staff," May says. More importantly, he argues that "decision-making authority should be consolidated, and the newly slimmed-down organization should be moved into the executive branch, where the president will be politically accountable for FCC policymaking activities."
Since the "horse-trading compromises made to achieve a majority consensus among five commissioners" tend to "invite judicial reversal for their arbitrariness," May suggests reducing the number of commissioners to three. If the agency is put under presidential control, he says a single head should be considered, "consistent with the prevailing model for executive branch agencies."
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.