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Regulatory News – Advisory Group Named to Design FCC Reform Plan

Posted: 12/2000

Regulatory News

Advisory Group Named to Design FCC Reform
Plan
By Kim Sunderland

Washington-based think tank Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF, www.pff.org)
is expected to release a report this month on how best to reform the FCC (www.fcc.gov).

The PFF recruited 15 of the nation’s foremost communications experts to serve
on its Communications Policy Advisory Committee. That committee also will
provide its views on how best to complete the process of deregulating the
telecom marketplace.

The recommendations, and a book highlighting specific areas of concern to
policymakers, will be made public at a PFF conference this month in Washington.

Reforming the FCC isn’t a new idea. Republicans in Congress and at the
commission want to see the agency massively downsized or outright eradicated.

The PFF, which was founded in 1993 to study the digital revolution and its
implications for public policy, has been interested in FCC reform since its
inception.

In 1995, the think tank published a study on the need to replace the FCC and
substantially deregulate the telecom marketplace. And in congressional testimony
this fall, PFF president Jeffrey A. Eisenach said Congress should scale back the
commission’s size and limit its authority. The hearing took place before the
House Committee on Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Management, Information
and Technology.

"The advent of competition in the communications marketplace should
result not in a larger and more powerful regulatory agency, but in a scaling
back of both the cost of the agency and its intrusion into decisions better made
in the private sector," Eisenach told Congress.

On the other end of the spectrum, FCC supporters argue powerfully that
killing the FCC would end competition. They say that without the FCC, how would
consumer abuses such as slamming be handled?

According to some sources, regulatory agencies were created in response to
real anticompetitive abuses.

Perhaps in an attempt to steal some of the reformers’ thunder, FCC Chairman
William E. Kennard presented his own plan to downsize earlier this year.

But Eisenach criticized the FCC’s plan, which he says proposes several new
and/or expanded missions for the commission. Eisenach argues the FCC "ought
to point the way to the smaller, less expensive and less powerful FCC that
should be the natural consequence of telecommunications competition and
deregulation."

Eisenach’s proposed reforms include a halt to the FCC’s use of its
"public interest" authority to impose "voluntary" conditions
on telecom mergers. He says it is a practice that results in "designer
regulation, with separate and unequal regulatory regimes imposed on similarly
situated firms."

The PFF’s study of the commission and the industry is being led by director
of communications studies and senior fellow Randolph J. May. The think tank also
is conducting a major project to identify public policies aimed to limit
government interference in the market for digital broadband networks.

Members of the PFF advisory committee are:

Lauren "Pete" Belvin, partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP; Rep.
Jack Fields, CEO, Twenty-First Century Group; James Gattuso, vice president for
policy and management, Competitive Enterprise Institute; Ernest Gellhorn, George
Mason University School of Law; C. Boyden Gray, partner, Wilmer, Cutler and
Pickering; Peter Huber, senior fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research;
Alfred Kahn, professor of economics, Cornell University; James C. Miller III,
counselor, Citizens for a Sound Economy; Timothy Muris, professor of law, George
Mason University; William Niskanen, chairman, Cato Institute; Eli Noam, director
and professor of finance and economics, Columbia Institute for Tele-Information;
Sen. Larry Pressler, partner, O’Connor & Hannan LLP; Kenneth G. Robinson,
communications attorney in Washington, D.C.; Adam Thierer, Alex C. Walker Fellow
in Economic Policy, the Heritage Foundation; and Richard Wiley, former FCC
chairman, partner, Wiley, Rein & Fielding.

"The caliber of this group speaks for itself," Eisenach said in a
statement. "And what it says is that there is a growing consensus on the
need for more rapid deregulation at the FCC. The report we deliver in December
will give both substance and voice to that consensus."

Supported by contributions, the nonpartisan group counts the following among
its supporters: Level 3 Communications Inc. (www.level3.com);
Time Warner Inc. (www.timewarner.com);
AT&T Corp. (www.att.com); Lucent
Technologies Inc. (www.lucent.com); Verizon
Communications (www.verizon.com); BellSouth
Corp. (www.bellsouth.com); Nortel
Networks Corp. (www.nortelnetworks.com);
and Qwest Communications International Inc. (www.qwest.com).

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