Yesterday, the New America Foundation released a paper titled “Public Media, Spectrum Policy and Rethinking Public Interest Obligations for the 21st Century.” The paper was supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundations.
In the interest of saving you the time it takes to read the paper, so you can put your time to more productive use or just enjoy the day, the punch line is this: NAF and its backers want to expand the scope of the regulatory state in a broad and radical way. In other words, it offers nothing new or helpful, and certainly nothing that will help advance the cause of American leadership in the broadband age.
Among the proposals NAF advances in the paper are suggestions to:
- Supplant spectrum auctions “with annual fees to sustain public media.” This is a tax increase, period. NAF can call it a fee, but it’s a tax on spectrum usage, and a tax that will inevitably flow through to the end-user. Is raising the cost of mobile broadband a desirable goal? It’s certainly not the way to encourage affordability and adoption.
- “Requiring spectrum licensees for mobile broadband to adhere to non-discrimination rules for Internet content, applications and services.” Here, NAF attempts to advance what it could not achieve when the FCC imposed its Open Internet rules. As CTIA asserted in that proceeding, application of such rules is unnecessary in a space as dynamic and competitive as the wireless ecosystem. Oh, and there’s that little inconvenience that it’s inconsistent with the Communications Act.
- “Increasing the diversity of wireless providers in local communities.” By the FCC’s data, almost 95 percent of Americans can choose among at least four facilities-based wireless providers. Almost everyone can choose among at least three. NAF seems to embrace the “every village needs to own a wireless company” approach, ignoring that the last 25 years have been about moving a fragmented industry toward greater efficiency. The result is that consumers have choice and lower prices.
There are other things in the paper – a great many, actually – with which I disagree, but I have other things to do today.
Is the public media model challenged? It probably is, just like the newspaper and broadcast models are challenged, as this recent and well-reasoned post from Henry Blodget explains. Do those businesses merit fixing? One can argue it either way, but it’s hard to assert that breaking the wireless business is the way to help.