September 28, 2016–The independent federal commission is an idea “whose time has passed,” allowing for influence and “cronyism” rather than true independence, according to economist Mark Jamison of the University of Florida.
Speaking at a digital infrastructure conference organized by the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, Mr. Jamison called for an end to “the president’s power to appoint who is on the commission.” Instead, he said the U.S. should follow a model common in other countries, which require “decision makers” to have professional qualifications fitting them for their tasks, so that policy-makers would have to be economists, lawyers, and engineers.
Asked about the proposal in Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s tech policy agenda for universal broadband access by 2020, Technology Policy President Scott Wallsten said that “100% is unrealistic. We didn’t get to 100%” with wireline voice telephony. He added, however, that at least Ms. Clinton released a tech policy plan that can be assessed and criticized, “as opposed to an unnamed narcissistic bigoted” candidate.
During another panel that focused on the FCC’s business data service (BDS) proceeding, George Ford, the chief economist at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, said that the FCC doesn’t “have what they need” in terms of appropriate data about the BDS market, “and I don’t think they’ll ever have what they need.”
Economist James Prieger of Pepperdine University said that the FCC’s language has “too much of a zero-sum mentality,” reflecting an apparent belief that a price adjustment in one spot will be reflected in an equal adjustment in another part of the market.
On another panel, Harvard Business School professor Shane Greenstein said that the FCC faces a “damned if you, damned if you don’t” situation with regard to service providers’ zero-rating practices, which the agency has been studying since late last year.
“This is going to be a headache, and it’s going to be with us for a while,” he said. He explained that if Internet service providers (ISPs) are allowed to offer zero-rated content and services, it will create incentives for discrimination, but if such business practices are prohibited, it will create incentives for ISPs “not to build” or improve networks. He added that the subject is “worthy of study.”
During the keynote address, Howard Shelanski, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget and a former Federal Trade Commission official, noted that his office reviews executive branch regulations, and thus telecom regulations are outside its purview “because that is the province of an independent agency.”
He did, however, venture the “radical” prediction that “we haven’t heard last of network neutrality.” He also spoke about the benefits of setting performance requirements in regulations, rather than specific technology standards, and beyond that, eschewing “static” performance regulation in favor of goals that encourage innovation beyond a single performance goal.
Regarding cybersecurity, he said that the market, “as big as it is,” still has “enormous” room for growth. He predicted that “we’re going to see security built into infrastructure from the ground up.” As for “ensuring access to the relevant communications technology of the day,” he said that any efforts to increase deployment and access to the most advanced technologies will help increase demand drivers for digital economy and innovation. —Lynn Stanton, firstname.lastname@example.org