Thursday, January 15, 2004

Rights & Reason: The Internet's "Sacred" Duty

FCC Chairman Michael Powell recently addressed the National Press Club on "The Age of Personal Communications: Power to the People." Much of his talk was a simple overview of new and emerging technologies, such as Internet voice protocol. But like most everything Powell has said and done as FCC chief, he tried to mix contradictory premises. First he talked about the need for regulators such as himself to exercise restraint:
Government can make things better, but Government, too, can make a mess of things. It is particularly prone to the latter when addressing budding technology developments that it does not yet fully understand or appreciate. Regulation can smother the risk-taking oxygen young entrepreneurs need to survive. They can weigh down innovation with forms and filings and drain capital by adding significantly to the costs of the service. And the cost of government compliance can mean higher, less competitive, prices for consumers.
Nice rhetoric, but then Powell contradicts himself a few paragraphs later when he reaffirms the FCC's core mission:
Communications is probably one of the most powerful attributes of mankind. Few capabilities in our society have a greater impact on our community than communications. Thus, as it has long been, communications policy is more than the efficient allocation of goods and resources. It is about people; their access to information and their development of community and personal relationships. I believe it a sacred duty to continue to protect important social values through the great digital migration.

First among equals is the unflinching commitment to universal service. We must make sure that the digital migration brings the technologies of today and tomorrow to every single American at affordable prices. This year we will continue to tackle important universal service reforms that ensure that the nation can continue to pass into a new era, while not sacrificing its inviolate commitment to all Americans.
Whenever a government official speaks of a "sacred duty," I get nauseous. And not surprisingly, the sacred duty here is an altruist cause, ensuring "universal service". This means the government will tax those people who choose to live in abundant communications markets, such as big cities, to provide "service" to those who choose to live in rural, less populated areas. Why I have a sacred duty to fund broadband access for folks living in Montana escapes me. Thankfully, we have highly qualified antitrust lawyers like Michael Powell to make these decisions for me.

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