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FCC: regulating through 3D glasses


By Scott Bradner


Network World , 12/04/2007


I was going to lay off the FCC for a while but the events of Nov. 27 make that really hard to do.


We were treated to the embarrassing spectacle of a meeting delayed more than 12 hours such that it finished around midnight and had a number of FCC commissioners accusing the FCC chairman of suppressing data that did not support the conclusion the chairman wanted. Hardly a way to run a professional regulatory organization.


It was not just the Keystone Cops-like ambiance of that meeting that caused me to want to talk about the FCC again. I find the FCC very frustrating – it seems to have surrounded too many topics with common sense-deflector screens. Its continued insistence on using a totally bogus measure of broadband penetration and its definition of broadband as 200Kbps in a single direction in spite of widespread condemnation paints the FCC as being in its own fantasy world. There are many other example of the same removed-from-reality nature of FCC pronouncements.


That frustration aside, what’s got me grousing about the FCC again was the sudden realization that parts of the FCC, extending at least to the chairman, just do not see the same thing when looking at the same conditions in the business of telephone companies and the business of cable companies. This is something that, in retrospect for me anyway, has been the case for quite a while.


The chairman seems rather bent out of shape by the cable companies and seems to want to do whatever he can to limit their viability and growth. For example, the day after the meeting fiasco, stories started circulating that the chairman was going to again propose that a single cable company be limited to a maximum of 30% of the cable business.


I'm not a big fan of monopolies, nor am I a big fan of the cable TV networks. (I dropped mine and moved to satellite when they raised the price and dropped the main extra channel I wanted to watch - Speed TV.) I might even be in favor of some kind of limit on the percent of the business any one cable TV company could amass, but I'm a technology-neutral kinda anti-monopolist. I find monopolies a real problem when they are tied into physical distribution networks in a way that makes it economically infeasible for another company to deploy any sort of new direct competition. Thus I found it a problem when the same FCC with this same chairman had no problem at all approving a merger that resulted in splitting the physical line-based telephone business into two parts. I also found it a problem when the FCC dropped all pretense of mandating the same kind of equal access to facilities that it is now proposing for cable companies, which now must carry certain broadband channels in certain regions and could be forced to lower what they charge for access "spare channels."


Somehow the FCC, or at least this chairman, cannot see the same thing when he looks at essentially identical situations in telephone companies and cable companies. It is almost like he is wearing those polarized 3D glasses where only vertically polarized light is seen by one eye and only horizontally polarized light is seen by the other. For 3D movies the brain blends together the disparate pictures into something that makes sense - something that does not seem to be happening at the FCC these days.


Disclaimer: I was shown 3D glasses at the Harvard Psychology Department close to 40 years ago but I've seen no analysis of the FCC's fuzzy vision from that department or from the university, so the above observation is mine alone.


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