Powell to Congress: Keep It Simple

WASHINGTON — Any consideration of a new Communications Act should be guided by the oath to “first do no harm,” and the philosophy of “keep it simple.”

That was the message to the House Communications Subcommittee from National Cable & Telecommunications Association president and former Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell at last week’s communications regulation oversight hearing, as the committee contemplates a rewrite of telecom law.

Powell pointed out that the Communications Act is more than 750,000 words long and “attempts to address thousands of topics.”

“[The marketplace] requires a greater degree of business flexibility, fewer prescriptive rules, and an assurance that any government involvement is applied on a technology-neutral basis and creates a better investment climate,” he told the committee.

Powell outlined the following seven principles for approaching a rewrite, an approach he conceded would be years in the making, but was worth the time and effort.

1. Nurture the conditions for innovation, which include free markets, risk taking and stability.

2. Organize the statute better-eliminate regulatory silos.

3. Give regulators the ability and obligation to address changing markets. “Give the FCC the ability — and the duty — to modify legal requirements as market changes demand,” he said.

4. “The law should ensure competitive parity and technical neutrality.”

5. “The FCC should police markets, rather than try to create them,” which means minimal economic regulation. Powell quoted current FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

6. The law should prioritize timeliness — avoid agonizing and unnecessarily complex open-ended proceedings.

7. Preserve important social values and consumer protections — 911, universal service, disabled access and protecting against fraud and abuse.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.