Thursday, November 20, 2003 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

There's "Re-Regulation" and There's "Re-Regulation"

Howard Dean is now calling for a comprehensive "re-regulation" of U.S. business, including media companies and the telecom sector. According to the Washington Post, Dean stated, "In order to make capitalism work for ordinary human beings, you have to have regulation."

Dean's call for "re-regulation" brought to mind Dick Wiley's use of that term back in the early and mid-70s. First as an FCC commissioner and then as FCC Chairman, Wiley used the term "re-regulation" as shorthand for his program to re-examine and begin reforming the existing regulatory framework governing media and telecom companies. Recall that at that seemingly long-ago time, three television networks held a dominant position in the media world and AT&T still held dominant market market power in the telco sphere.

But already there were stirrings of change that foresighted regulators could see were creating opportunities for a competitive communications industry--if not smashed in the cradle by regulatory over-zeal (new word meaning overkill) . Cable television was growing, satellites were changing the economics of program distribution, MCI and Sprint's predecessor were already nipping at AT&T's heels, and the FCC had already opened it first Computer Inquiry to look at the blurring line between data processing and comunications.

Granted, Dick Wiley's use of the term "re-regulation" to mean looking for opportunities to lessen regulation always had a bit of an odd ring about it, as even Dick admits. But Dick says that at that time even uttering the word "deregulation" would have raised too many hackles, and he made clear that he didn't mean that regulation should be increased, but rather relaxed where circumstances warranted.

Now comes the 21st Century "re-regulator" Howard Dean--and there is no mistaking what he means to do. He ain't no Dick Wiley. According to the Post, he means to reverse what he thinks have been "the years of government deregulation of energy markets, telecommunications, the airlines, and other major industries."

Like "re-regulation", there's "deregulation" and then there's "deregulation". Maybe we can get Dr. Dean to stop by PFF so we can explain that, at least in the communications and energy sectors, we really haven't seen really meaningul deregulation yet. What we've seen are some halting, but nevertheless welcome, steps in the direction of deregulation. If Howard Dean does decide to drop by--or, for that matter, any other of the presidential candidates, regardless of party--we can explain what real deregulation means, why it is a good thing for the economy in sectors with contestable markets, and what needs to be done to achieve it.

posted by Randolph May @ 12:19 PM | General