I can’t think of any federal organization that has less fans than the FCC. The FAA seems to do a pretty solid job. The FTC could probably crack down on a few more tech monopolies out there. The SEC should ease a few restrictions that so heavily discourage IPOs today. But those are minor annoyances compared to the FCC. The FCC has this weird dual-role, in which one half is trying to make sure lots of new technologies don’t make a mess out in the real world, and the other half is trying to figure out if its okay if I say “peepee” on television.
In it’s first role, I think it seems to do a bang-up job, but I’m not a spectrum engineer or anything like that, so I could be wrong. But when I see stories such as “FCC Chairman Martin to Telcos: No Blocking Iowa Calls” (updated) “FCC approves plan for major wireless spectrum auction: Spectrum in 700MHz band to have greater range for broadband” I have to say, it sounds good to me! After all, my microwave works, my cell phones work, my wifi works – this whole spectrum thing seems like it’s being managed well. And guess what, it’s exactly this purpose wherein the roots of the FCC lie:
Before the commission was established, radio was regulated by the Commerce Department under Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover. Naturally, chaos reigned. The biggest problem was that hundreds of stations were trying to broadcast on only two frequencies, a situation that detracted from listening enjoyment.
But then there’s the other FCC, the one that sounds a whole lot like an uninformed yokel, who arbitrarily fines DJ’s, declares that the word “Dick” better mean “Richard”, and generally acts like a bully only barely overshadowed by Homeland Security (but at least those guys are trying to take actions with the intent to save lives). On almost a daily basis, I see through my variety of feeds and newsletters articles discussing how the FCC is playing in territory that should clearly be outside their “turf”. Two recent examples:
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who heads the House Commerce Committee, said at an occasionally rancorous subcommittee meeting Wednesday that “the FCC is not a legislative body – that role resides here in this room with the people’s elected representatives.” – source
Congress could regulate violence on cable, satellite and broadcast television without violating the First Amendment, according to the Federal Communications Commission. – source
Now whether or not I side with political correctness or moral majority or whatever term you prefer is wholely irrelevant. Fundamentally, the FCC plays a game in which they redefine the rules as it suits their purpose. But changes are afoot, changes that will render this part of the FCC near-useless in the coming years. The good old Interweb is here to lay a bit of a smackdown on the FCC. And the nice thing about Interwebbing is, it tends to do a lot more self-policing, with a lot better checks and balances.
The interesting part is the “checks” are literally checks – when it comes to IP video, of whatever nature, the dollar is almighty. Put simply: streaming video costs money. It costs money to create, produce, edit, and most importantly – stream. If you cannot make enough money to cover your bandwidth costs, you will sooner or later be off the “air”. Which is where our “balances” come in, and we call them advertisers (sponsors works too). Mathew Ingram recently wrote (he wrote a second piece on a related topic that’s also a good read):
What kinds of advertisers will YouTube be able to attract? Critics such as Mark Cuban have argued that most advertisers won’t want to be associated with the kind of content that’s on the site, whereas Joost is much more like regular TV.
Cuban is dead-right on this topic. But after “most” comes “some” and those some advertisers that are left will want to be associated with YouTube content. That’s how they exercise their power – they write the checks for the content they like. Don’t like it? No checks. Fair and balanced at its finest.
Thanks to the FCC, television has its seven deadly words. Thanks to YouTube, ustream, PodTech, PodShow, Apple, Fraunhoffer, MPEG-LA, and, as Time magazine so ______ put it, YOU, the Internet has no deadly words. Go ahead, do a podcast, say “peepee” a lot. If you get enough advertisers, someone might ask you to stop saying it one day, as that is their option. And you are fully empowered to make your own decision. As are the listeners or viewers. As it should be, no unelected, unbounded, outdated, and out-of-touch government body needed.