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Fear and Loathing in D.C.

In the spirit of Halloween and things that go bump inside the Beltway, we invited Washington policymakers and shapers to weigh in with their picks for the scariest media policy initiatives or outcomes that they could summon up. The request appeared to scare off a number of lobbyists, who declined to drive a stake into the heart of their most-feared policy. But those who stepped up came with some bone-chilling offerings.

“My scariest scenario is we continue to be haunted by bad private and public decisions on media policy that have already caused so much damage to our news journalism. It’s time to quit with the tricks and start harvesting the treats of our great media potential.” —Michael Copps, FCC commissioner

“My Halloween nightmare would be watching a black-hooded, unelected Washington bureaucrat lead our First Amendment rights into the dark, cold abyss of content regulation under the banner of ‘the government saving journalism.’” —Robert McDowell, FCC commissioner

“That in their rush for revenue from spectrum auctions, policymakers could do serious damage to a great American institution—free and local television—and potentially disenfranchise many of those 46 million Americans exclusively reliant on broadcast TV.” —Gordon Smith, NAB president

“The Supreme Court overrules the Red Lion precedent, which holds that spectrum scarcity justifies the current licensing process. One result would be that pirate radio stations would have the same First Amendment rights to broadcast as every licensed station. Must-carry rules for cable and DBS would be invalidated. And broadcasters would have to bid at auction to keep their spectrum, since they would lose the ‘renewal expectancy’ built into the current law.” —Andrew Schwartzman, senior VP and policy director, Media Access Project

“The scariest media policy scenario is when communications policymakers wax nostalgically about the good old days of primordial commoncarrier communications policy as they search for ‘innovative’ tricks to impose common carrier regulations on the 21st century competitive communications marketplace of the Internet and cloud computing. Nothing is scarier than driving down the communications road to the future with policymaker drivers more focused on looking backwards over their shoulders at where they’ve been, rather than looking ahead to where they are going.” —Scott Cleland, chairman, NetCompetition

“That the Ghost of Prometheus Past, clad in a black robe and wielding a deadly gavel, continues to haunt us, pleading with us to improve and repent under threat of future misfortune and woe.” —Mignon Clyburn, FCC commissioner

“My ghoulish nightmare goes like this: When the FCC recently finally removed the Fairness Doctrine from its rules, all along it had in mind a trick to go with the long-overdue treat. The agency intends to use its newly adopted net neutrality regulations to enforce, in the name of preventing discrimination, its own view of Fairness on the Net. A new Fairness Doctrine for the Internet! Applying discredited legacy regulations to new media. That is truly a scary thought.” —Randolph J. May, president of the Free State Foundation, Rockville, Md.

“The president promises to take ‘a back seat to no one’ on net neutrality. But chased by zombies, I mean lobbyists, the FCC chairman retreats and retreats until there’s almost nothing left to the rules. But the zombies, I mean lobbyists, aren’t sated, so they take him to court, and they introduce legislation that would strip him of all his powers. But they’re still hungry, so they come for bill shock, and USF, and media ownership, too. And as the lobbyist-zombies close in around him on the eighth floor, he huddles in the corner, and you hear a faint whisper…‘authority…I should have dealt with authority.’ But it’s too late.” —Craig Aaron, president, Free Press

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