Saturday, April 10, 2010

Your taxpayer dollars at work

So the Federal Communications Commission has been slapped by a judge who says the agency has no authority to regulate the Internet. Knotty issue, this. When the former Federal Radio Commission was first formed, its primary purpose was to bring some order to the chaos that was the rapidly expanding radio-frequency spectrum. That chaos was first brought to the attention of the public by the Titanic disaster, and the fact that a distress signal from the sinking ocean liner was lost in the interference and nobody heard it.

Things changed they tend to do...and the Commission had to take on commercial broadcasting--first radio and then TV--and telephone communications, and the name of the agency changed to Federal Communications Commission. And since most people use telephone wires in some form or another to ultimately connect their various computers to the Internet, the FCC decided they could jump in and try to deal with the chaos there, too.

They have not done a good job. We ham radio guys know about the BPL (broadband over power lines) debacle, in which the Commission inexplicably ignored all negatives associated with the technology and pushed it hard. There had been rumblings that the Commission wanted to not only regulate the technological side but start meddling in content and many other areas of the web. But a judge said, "No." He said the FCC had no jurisdiction at all.

This hits close to home for me on another front. Readers of this blog know that I have taken issue with the FCC thinking it had any dog in the hunt when it came to radio and TV ratings. The agency has heard testimony about Arbitron's personal people meter radio-ratings technology and has indicated it would wade into that realm. That, to me, is the equivalent of, say, the Securities and Exchange Commission telling Morningstar what criteria to use in ranking mutual funds. There is no reason or right for a regulatory agency to tell a publisher of audience estimates how to do what they do. If Arbitron turns out bad numbers, broadcasters will stop buying them.

And even if the Internet is chaotic, why does the FCC feel they have any authority--statutory or any other kind--to try to do anything about it?

Don Keith N4KC

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