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FCC: regulating through 3D glasses


By Scott Bradner


I was going to lay off the FCC for a while but the events of November 27th make that really hard to do.  We were treated to the embarrassing spectacle of a meeting delayed over 12 hours such that it finished around midnight and having a number of FCC Commissioners accusing the FCC Chairman of suppressing data that did not support the conclusion that the Chairman wanted.  This is hardly a way to run a professional regulatory organization.


It was not just the amateurish Keystone Cops like ambiance of that meeting that caused me to want to talk about the FCC again.  I do find the FCC very frustrating - they seem to have surrounded too many topics with common sense defector screens.  Their continued insistence on using a totally bogus measure of broadband penetration (See "FCC may be told to tell truth" and their definition of broadband as 200 Kbps in a single direction (see 'Continuing deceptions" in spite of wide spread condemnation paints them as being in their own fantasy world.  There are many other example of the same removed-from-reality nature of FCC pronouncements. 


That frustration aside, what got me to grouse about the FCC again was the sudden realization that parts of the FCC, extending at least to the Chairman, just do not see the same thing when looking at the same conditions in the business of telephone companies and the business of cable companies.  This is something that, in retrospect for me anyway, has been the case for quite a while.


The FCC Chairman seems rather bent out of shape by the cable companies and seems to want to do whatever he can to limit their viability and growth.  For example, the day after the meeting fiasco stories started circulating that the Chairman was going to again propose that a single cable company be limited to a maximum of 30% of the cable business. (See "FCC may officially reinstate 30 percent cable ownership cap" - 


I'm not a big fan of monopolies, nor am I a big fan of the cable TV networks. (I dropped mine & moved to satellite when they raised the price and dropped the main extra channel I wanted to watch - Speed TV.)  I might even be in favor of some kind of limit on the percent of the business any one cable TV company could amass but I'm a technology neutral kinda anti-monopolist.  I find monopolies a real problem when they are tied into physical distribution networks in a way that makes it economically infeasible for another company to deploy any sort of new direct competition.  Thus I found it a problem when the is same FCC with this same Chairman had no problem at all approving a merger that resulted in splitting the physical line based telephone business into two parts in the US.  (See "Is the FCC pining for the good old days?" - I also found it a problem when the FCC dropped all pretense of mandating the same kind of equal access to the facilities (see "U.S. telecom "reform" as an object lesson?" that they are now proposing for cable with digital must carry and lowering the price of access to "spare channels" (See "Why FCC Head Aims to Broaden Access to Spare Cable Channels" -


Somehow the FCC, or at least this FCC Chairman, cannot see the same thing when he looks at essentially identical situations in telephone companies and cable companies.  It is almost like he is wearing those polarized 3D glasses where only vertically polarized light is seen by one eye and only horizontally polarized light is seen by the other.  For 3D movies the brain blends together the disparate pictures into something that makes sense - something that does not seem to be happening at the FCC these days.


disclaimer: I was shown 3D glasses at the Harvard Psychology Department close to 40 years ago but I've seen no analysis of the FCC's fuzzy vision from that department or from the university so the above observation is mine alone.