It's amazing how quickly politicians forget.
A few months ago, most of Washington was teaming with anger over a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to insert federal bureaucrats into America's newsrooms to act as monitors against "biased" news reporting.
Now, the Senate is considering legislation that would give even greater power to the agency that has infuriated Republicans by overstepping its authority to extort parties to merger deals and to regulate the Internet.
Perplexingly, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is leading the effort. Thune has joined with liberal stalwart Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to author a package of provisions as part reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act that would further expand the FCC’s ability to intervene and micromanage what should be private market negotiations between content creators and pay TV providers.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks before calling for a vote during a meeting of the commissioners on May 15, 2014 at the FCC in Washington, DC. The commissioners voted on a proposal for protecting an open Internet. Protesters are urding the FCC to reject efforts to create faster online lanes for those who can pay for them. (AFP Photo / Karen Bleier)
In the initial draft of their legislation, the senators included a provision they dubbed “Local Choice,” which would have forced customers of cable and satellite companies to purchase their local broadcasting separately from their cable packages. Fortunately, that giveaway to the cable companies was too much cronyism for even the U.S. Senate to stomach and the provision was dropped.
Nevertheless, there is plenty more where that came from.
Other provisions in the bill empower the FCC to conjure and enforce their own definition of “good faith” negotiations. In order to police negotiations, the FCC is imbued with the prerogative to demand information “as they deem necessary.”
Tellingly the legislation also instructs the FCC to specifically examine whether a company’s decision to not allow the streaming of its content online was done in “good faith.” Streaming content is a major bargaining chip in retransmission agreements so this mandate would seem to be directed at enabling the FCC to be an active participant in the deliberations in order to bias the outcome in favor of cable and satellite TV providers.
Over and above the crony advantage intended by this legislation, the further encroachment of the government into the details of free enterprise has the effect of turning a business transaction into a purely political one in which the team with the best lobbyists wins.
The FCC’s attempt at regulating the Internet through “Net Neutrality” rules highlights the perils of such a model. What should be a sales conversation between Internet Service Providers and those wishing to buy their product has turned into a full blown political and lobbying campaign where millions of dollars are being spent to achieve advantages unattainable in the marketplace.
But in the end, by turning to government, both parties are hostage to the whims of the FCC, no matter how much they spend.
There seems to be little explanation outside of corporate cronyism for any Republican to support a law that so broadly increases the regulatory powers of the federal government and lopsidedly benefits one industry over another. The Thune-Rockefeller legislation is an improper power grab for another federal government agency running amok.
More power only begets more power and the FCC is one of the last agencies of government that should be rewarded for their behavior. What's next? An effort to make Lois Lerner the Commissioner of the IRS?
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