Powell's KISC Communications Reg Theory: Keep It Simple Congress

Any consideration of a new Communications Act should be guided by the oath to "first do no harm." That is the message to the House Communications Subcommittee from former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, according to a copy of his prepared testimony for a Jan. 15 communications regulation oversight hearing.

That, and the admonition to "keep it simple."

Powell, who is currently president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, pointed out that the Communications Act is more than 750,000 words long and "attempts to address thousands of topics."

Powell has long argued the act is too prescriptive.

"[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 says. "At the same time, consumer protection and public safety, the driving forces behind many of the existing Communications Act's provisions, remain important in any legislative effort."

Powell outlines his seven principles for approaching a rewrite:

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."

4. "The law should ensure competitive parity and technical neutrality."

5. "The FCC should police markets, rather than try to create them," which means minimum economic regulation. Quoting current FCC chair and former NCTA President 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, 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.