This afternoon Cato put on a provocative Capitol Hill briefing on the need for telecom reform. In contrast to PFF's own effort to bring together varied viewpoints on this subject, this panel included speakers who followed roughly similar sheets of music. The discussion was lively and colorful, in part based on the involvement of several well-established commentators: George Gilder and John Wohlstetter of Discovery Insitute and Adam Thierer of Cato.
To oversimplify, speakers appeared to make the following points: (1) the U.S. is way behind other countries in deployment of broadband and other advanced services because we failed to deregulate; (2) part of that failure resulted from ambiguities in the statute, but the lion's share resulted from missteps by the FCC (e.g., promoting "fake" competition via unbundling of the incumbent's entire network, allowing state/local involvement in regulation, inadequate use of forbearance and preemption authority); and (3) only sweeping deregulation can correct these problems, at the very least with respect to broadband and other "new" services and technologies. Speakers also appeared to agree that adequate deregulation would require both a better statute and a significantly reformed and limited FCC. Interestingly, the only area in which the speakers felt the FCC had gone reasonably far toward their preferred approach was spectrum policy, with several speakers praising efforts to reduce command-and-control regulation and experimentation with different models of spectrum allocation.
Although the discussion could have benefited from more disagreement among speakers, it did provide a good sketch of at least the "free market" imperatives for reform. (Presumably, similar events around town will offer views that instead embrace ongoing government involvement in communications.) That said, the discussion offered few concrete suggestions on how to help these or other policy views navigate the political thicket in Congress. At most, speakers expressed an understanding that universal service could not be eliminated altogether even if they wanted to do so, as well as a general willingness to avoid media issues in this round of reform.
Hopefully, these sorts of political considerations can factor more prominently in future discussions, as interest in telecom reform continues to heat up on Capitol Hill and elsewhere among policy circles. If not, the "right answers" -- whatever proponents believe those are -- may fall victim to politics as usual.