The New America Foundation today held a two panel discussion on the public interest standard as it applies to broadband and spectrum. Larry Irving defined the public interest as including universal service, diversity, and localism. From what I gathered, the premise was transitioning these broadcast public interest components to broadband.
In other words, society has as a social policy goal ensuring universal access to broadband services; making sure a diverse array of voices can receive and send messages via broadband; and ensuring content sent and received via broadband includes homegrown content about things going on next door, including news about Mrs. Wilson’s cat being caught in a tree …
Okay, I digressed a little on the cat in the tree.
Is this really in the public’s interest in broadband services or the use of spectrum for that matter? The problem with the public interest standard at the Federal Communications Commission is that it looks at the airwaves as something primarily for consumer consumption. Big mistake. As guardian and gatekeeper of a public resource, it should look at the airwaves as a national resource that we use to produce output. As a creature of the Congress, the FCC should analyze the public interest in terms as a regulator of commerce.
Spectrum is a conduit in the flow of commercial activity; the movement of goods and services. The primary good or service carried through this conduit is information. The conduit is indifferent to the information. It’s indifferent to whoever is selling and buying it. This is why burdening access to and use of spectrum with consumer concerns is pointless.
The only public interest standard that should matter is whether access to the air waves is being put in the hands of the carriers that will use it best, and that these carriers do indeed put spectrum to use.