Real Deregulation


With all the apocalyptic rhetoric around the FCC's "deregulation" decision today, you might expect the new rules to say something really radical, like "We will no longer regulate how many media outlets you can own." Instead, you'll find gems like this one: "In markets with five or more TV stations, a company may own two stations, but only one of these stations can be among the top four in ratings." A reader calling himself Uncle Brian comments: "So if I own two of the five stations in my market, one of them always has to be last in the ratings? Does that mean I have to make it intentionally suck? Do I forfeit ownership if I can't keep people from watching?"

Now, there may well be a reassuring answer out there to Brian's question. If I were writing an article instead of a blog entry, I'd call the FCC and maybe a communications lawyer or two and try to figure out how exactly the new rule should be interpreted. (Being a broadcast-policy geek, I just might do that anyway.) My point is that when a new law sounds absurd on its face and you have to go to a lawyer to make sense of it, you have not in any meaningful sense deregulated anything. In a deregulated realm, the rules are few and simple, not many and incomprehensible.

What would real deregulation of the spectrum look like? For a bracing alternative to the FCC's industry-driven tinkering with its rules, check out this piece in The Economist.