With an alphabet soup of government agencies already running amok and trampling the Constitution, it’s difficult to believe that some Republicans are trying to give more unbridled power to the federal bureaucracy. Conservatives are scratching their heads over the decision of Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to support new legislation introduced by liberal Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) that would further expand the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of the reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA).
The FCC is no harmless federal agency. Over the past decade, it has repeatedly been described as “lawless,” “out of control, and “reckless.” FCC bureaucrats have attempted to muzzle conservative talk radio hosts and for years have attempted to regulate the Internet without the legal authority to do so. This year, they were caught trying to insert minders into America’s newsrooms to ensure that “underserved communities” were not subject to biased media reporting. While these sins are perhaps the most visible to the public, the agency’s most egregious abuses of power take place behind the scenes.
The agency uses its overly broad authority to intervene into business transactions such as mergers and acquisitions of media companies to impose its own policy agenda and social engineering. Officially called “voluntary commitments,” the FCC extorts parties wishing to receive approval of their transaction to make dictates that it otherwise lacks the authority to make. These commitments are voluntary in the same way handing over your wallet to an armed mugger is voluntary.
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In 2012, the House passed legislation to curb these abuses by preventing the FCC from accepting voluntary merger commitments that fall outside of its actual purview. Not surprisingly, the legislation died in the Senate committee chaired by none other than Senator Jay Rockefeller.
The FCC’s long history of abusive intervention into the marketplace is what makes the expansion of FCC power sought by Rockefeller and Thune so troubling. The legislation bestows upon the FCC even more jurisdiction to micromanage private market negotiations between content creators and Pay TV providers. The bill entitles the FCC to ensure that negotiations between broadcasters and cable companies are occurring in “good faith”, “as it deems necessary.” There are no limiting principles or standards, and the FCC decides the definition of “good faith” on its own.
As part of its good faith mission, the agency would also be authorized to force broadcasters to put their content online, whether it makes good business sense or not. Beyond the damage to free enterprise, such a law is a slippery slope to government-mandated speech (and perhaps the first step to the regulation of the Internet so long sought by the FCC.)
Earlier iterations of this bill contained provisions that would have inserted the FCC into the product decisions of TV providers by requiring that broadcast channels be offered as an a la carte menu separate from the rest of the bundled cable programming. Such an edict would have ultimately resulted in consumers paying more and getting less.
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Fortunately, that particular command-and-control policy has been removed from the bill. But even without it, the bill remains an abomination. Rather than clipping the wings and power of an out-of-control government agency, it encourages further unconstitutional behavior; and for that reason, it should be rejected.
Photo credit: Medill DC (Flickr)
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