New FCC hire’s TV potshots


Stuart Benjamin is taking a break from his post at Duke Law School to work on long-term strategy at the FCC. And one strategy he seems to favor is shoving TV out of the way to clear spectrum for wireless broadband.

From an FCC release, Benjamin “will be joining the Commission as the agency’s first Distinguished Scholar in Residence. He will reside in the Office of Strategic Planning and will work on spectrum reform, First Amendment issues, and long-term strategy.” While at Duke he wrote an essay called “Roasting the Pig to Burn Down the House: A Modest Proposal” – he said he was kidding, but only half. Read on:

“For instance, one may regard a set of proposed regulations as foolish and likely to hobble the industry regulated, but perhaps desirable if one believes that we would be better off without that industry. I argue that television broadcasting is such an industry, and thus that we should support new regulations that will make broadcasting unprofitable, to hasten its demise. But it cannot be just any costly regulation: if a regulation would tend to entrench broadcasting’s place on the airwaves, then the regulation will not help to free up the spectrum and should be avoided. Ideal regulations for this purpose are probably those that are pure deadweight loss – regulations that cost broadcasters significant amounts of money but have no impact on their behavior.”

He continued, “Am I serious in writing all this? Not entirely, but mostly. I do think that society would benefit if the wireless frequencies currently devoted to broadcast could be used for other services, and the first-best ways of achieving that goal may not be realistic. I am proposing a second-best – a fairly cynical second-best, but a second-best all the same. I would prefer not to go down this path, but if that is the only way to hasten the shriveling of television broadcasting’s spectrum usage, then it is probably a path worth taking.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We have to believe that a regulatory battle of this magnitude will at the very least consume a great deal of time. But a lot of forces seem to be lining up behind spectrum reallocation – the time to mount a stiff defense is now.