A few months ago (how did I miss this?) CoCo (Constitutional Code in the Realm of Culture) posted about an FCC paper that basically kills the scarcity doctrine, thereby significantly undercutting the rationale for FCC regulation of broadcast airwaves.
CoCo correctly points out that this has both a big potential plus and a big potential minus: (a) first, the plus: the government has less justification for federal obscenity & decency regulations; but (b) the minus: broadcast owners have more justification for trying to ditch things like must-carry rules, the fairness doctrine (if it existed anymore), and other aspects of state regulation in the public interest. (I distinguish between obscenity/decency regulations and the public interest but it must be said that some folks would put both items together, in either the plus or minus columns depending on their politics. I’ll call them both “public policy” regulations, reserving the right to distinguish between good and bad public policy regulations.)
But the so-called First Amendment rights of broadcast corporations stem from the government-granted monopoly they have over particular chunks of the airwaves. So, yes, a dead scarcity doctrine undercuts the rationale for the public policy regulations. But it also undercuts the rationale for the government-granted monopolies in the first place.
So imagine this admittedly unlikely scenario: the FCC gets out of the licensing, as well as the content-regulating, business altogether. Be conservative and leave the FCC the role of standard-setting body, establishing broadcast ranges for this and that type of broadcast. What might the broadcast environment look like? Lots of broadcasters, competing with each other for the airwaves. Encrypted content delivered and decrypted by commercially available equipment. Cooperative groups of content providers? Imagine all the benefits of low power FM, cited by media activists, church groups, union organizers, and the like, but available to all. Sounds pretty good to me. If the FCC isn’t acting as procurer and police for large corporations, handing out and enforcing monopolistic control over chunks of the airwaves, then maybe we don’t have to worry so damn much about the so-called First Amendment rights of large corporate entities.
So, the scarcity doctrine is dead. Long live the age of plenty.
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