Communications regulation needs a narrative and regulators should take a hint from the late President John F. Kennedy for guidance on to formulate one.
President Kennedy provided America with a narrative based on a new frontier. This narrative manifested itself in the quest to place a man on the moon within ten years. Kennedy painted a picture of America in malaise; in stagnation, and that by passing the torch to a new generation, the country could blaze new trails. The end game was the new frontier.
This theme, with the occasional hurdles brought on by the Cold War with Russia and arguably a result of the narrative, would underlie Kennedy’s thousand days in office. While I would not call Kennedy a progressive, he did set a tone for the need of reform in how we approached the rest of the world and our role in it, but never lost site that America should remain preeminent in global affairs while taking the lead in crafting mankind’s greatest achievements.
This is the type of approach America need to take in its reform of communications reform. There has been no narrative offered, merely the blathering of buzz words like “competition”, “transparency”, and “robust”. Talking point and familiar words do not create bold policy. Nor do marginal tweaks to communications rules transmit to our society that our regulators share the urgency to enter brave new worlds of connecting Americans to their commerce via our communications networks.
Take for example the Federal Communications Commission’s Preliminary Plan for Retrospective Analysis of Existing Rules, released in November 7, 2011. The Plan is supposed to provide a road map for how the FCC proposed to can rules deemed unnecessary; rules that may spawn more economic costs than benefits for carriers. Upon inspection of the plan there is no narrative, no vision or direction to move the current state of regulation to and along.
Anticipating effects of outdated rules on innovation is not enough. Being a responsive, effective, and efficient agency in the face of technological and economic opportunities in a millennium that is moving at warp drive does not tell me where the FCC sees communications going. The difficulty may be that the FCC does a poor job of looking at the entire market when discussing regulation. Its approach is like a painter throwing splotches of paint on a canvass, a reference I’ve made in previous posts. The FCC does not realize that this lack of a definitive road map; this failure to converse on where we are, where we are going, and why, is at the heart of its dilemma.
Let me offer this as a potential narrative. The state of the communications regulation has been one-sided, with the FCC taking an overly cautious view towards regulation such that investors view the broadband market in much the same way. In order to keep capital flowing into the market while fueling innovative ways to deliver services giving current and projected spectrum constraints, the FCC’s end game, with authority from a re-written Communications Act, should be a market where the private sector allocates spectrum, subject to FCC rules and the authority given by the Act.
Outside of rights-of-way and pole attachment concerns, broadband providers should not be limited by onerous franchise requirements detailing where they must serve, forcing carriers to be broadband providers of last resort while running up the cost of deployment in hard to serve areas.
The vision should be one of a communications marketplace unfettered by unnecessary restraints that seem more focused on the management practices of a carrier versus its output.