Saturday, March 13, 2010

The FCC and the Internet: What Happened to the Market?

The NY Times reports on the forthcoming release by the FCC of its Broadband Strategy. The Times states:

According to F.C.C. officials briefed on the plan, the commission’s recommendations will include a subsidy for Internet providers to wire rural parts of the country now without access, a controversial auction of some broadcast spectrum to free up space for wireless devices, and the development of a new universal set-top box that connects to the Internet and cable service.

The effort will influence billions of dollars in federal spending, although the F.C.C. will argue that the plan should pay for itself through the spectrum auctions. Some recommendations will require Congressional action and industry support, and will affect users only years from now.

The question is by what authority does the FCC act under to take actions to essentially nationalize the deployment of broadband? The answer seems to be that they are doing this plan to ask Congress for just such an authority.

The development of the Internet has evolved in a manner of that of the free market. Entrepreneurs and engineers get together and deploy some new elements and if it takes it gets more open market funding and it evolves. The current FCC seems to have the hubris that they and they alone have the insight as to how it evolves. As we had written just a short while ago the FCC lacks technical talent and as Government types they also lack and business expertise.

Thus this is just another step of a Government takeover of another sector of our economy. Banks, autos, health care, and now communications. One could even argue that they control agriculture given the role of the USDA in part.

They believe that they are central planners and as such have wisdom and insight that is supra the market. The Soviet planners had a similar mindset. One wonders what the true intent is of these planners. Perhaps it is the fear of this planning process that drives down Verizon and AT&T stock.

The focus on rural is somewhat understandable but the intensity of that focus is questionable. In the 1930s the REA, the predecessor of the RUS at USDA performed a laudable function for a largely agricultural nation. We are not that any longer. RUS still performs a valuable function in its day to day business. Telecommunications is important for many segments of our society. In the normal RUS day to day world they make rational economic decisions and these decisions are for the most part validated in their paybacks. The FCC's dream of an Internet world of their own making is highly suspect.