With the election a little more than two weeks away, it is time for B&C to offer our endorsement.
We aren’t going to choose the candidate—nothing like that. That is for the voters to do. And—let us remind anyone considering sitting this one out—those who don’t vote don’t get to complain.
Instead, we endorse a set of policies that square communications regulation with the realities of the competitive marketplace, and the FCC’s charter to preserve and protect communications for all Americans, not just those packing smartphones and tablets and underwriting personal, multiple wired and wireless broadband access points.
Both Democrats and Republicans say they want to increase regulatory certainty, remove unwanted regulation and promote economic growth and jobs. That is the “chicken in every pot” baseline. But it is the policies between those lines that will determine whether that proves more than lip service.
Promoting broadband deployment is important. But the right way to do it is to include broadcasters in the effort, rather than marginalize them. So regardless of who wins Nov. 6, the FCC must provide broadcasters with enough information to make informed decisions about their future. The agency will take its first step in that direction with a workshop this week, and we will be watching to see how instructive it is.
Both candidates have talked about being the president of all Americans, so that should include the millions who depend on over-the-air TV for their news and entertainment and, yes, their emergency information, though broadcasters are in danger of diluting that point with overuse.
And whether or not the FCC’s chairman ends up being a Democrat, loosening media ownership rules should be part and parcel of both recognizing the changing marketplace and the importance of giving broadcasters—and their disproportionately minority and older over-the-air-only audiences—a fighting chance to remain connected and relevant in the broadband-centric future the FCC continually envisions.
We bring this up because while FCC chairmen in both Democratic and Republican administrations have said the ban on newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership should be lifted, they have failed to do so, fearing reaction from members of Congress.
The FCC reports to Congress, but it is an independent agency. Pressure from legislators afraid of the power of broadcast/newspaper combinations to keep a closer eye on them should not carry the day, although broadcasters should take it as a compliment that Congress clearly recognizes broadcasting as a power to be reckoned with.
And while long-term regulatory reform is a tough slog, as our cover story this week points out, it is a necessary one. The 1996 Communications Act missed the boat on the whole broadband/Internet thing—it is basically phone deregulation—so that needs to be updated and the regulatory silos leveled. What takes its place should recognize that phone companies are also video companies and cable operators are also wireless operators and broadcasters are also mobile content providers—and that to artificially divide up relevant competitive markets doesn’t cut it anymore.
So long as promoting competition and job creation translates to recognizing those market realities and adjusting FCC regulations—with a scalpel or an axe as needed—let the best candidate win. Oh, and did we already mention this? Vote!
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