FCC Eliminates Fairness Doctrine After Congressional Demand for Regulatory Review

Published August 23, 2011

The Federal Communications Commission was among several federal agencies under fire from the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for regulatory overreach and failure to institute necessary reforms. The Committee held its fourth hearing of the year on July 7 to improve the regulatory review system. The hearing focused on government agencies and their response to a presidential directive to review and eliminate outdated and burdensome regulations that hinder economic growth and job creation.

The FCC responded by announcing on August 23 that it had eliminated 83 “outdated and obsolete rules,” including the Fairness Doctrine, a regulation that had not been enforced by the FCC since the 1980s. Left in place, however, are the FCC’s net neutrality regulations, which were passed in December 2010.

Subcommittee members questioned representatives from several federal agencies—including the FCC and Federal Trade Commission—that thus far had not complied with President Obama’s January 2011 Executive Order to restructure federal agencies’ regulatory practices.

“Though the FCC and FTC are considered independent agencies, they wield a tremendous amount of regulatory, licensing, and review power over some of the most dynamic industries this nation has ever seen,” said Carl Gipson, director of the Center for Small Business and the Technology/Telecom Project at the Washington Policy Center. “It should be incumbent upon them to examine themselves to make sure they are not impeding economic growth because of archaic, ineffective, or overly burdensome regulations.”

‘Harmful to Growth/Innovation’
The Subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), rebuked the independent agencies for their lack of regulatory reform.

“Unfortunately for the American people, this request was largely ignored,” Rep. Stearns said in a statement.

Ryan Radia, associate director of technology studies for the Washington, DC-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the FCC and FTC have demonstrated they’re unwilling to seriously assess the impact of their regulations.

“Both the FCC and the FTC have been especially aggressive during this administration with regards to pursuing a regulatory agenda that is harmful to growth and particularly harmful to innovation,” he said.

No Benefit to Public
With the national unemployment rate above 9 percent, both political parties and agency representatives agree stripping unnecessary regulations is a useful strategy.

Rep. Stearns referenced subcommittee testimony from FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell to demonstrate the growth of government regulations has little or no benefit for the public at large. McDowell’s statement noted the FCC’s rules, measured in pages, have grown by almost 800 percent over the past 50 years.

No Meaningful Reform
President Obama is also to blame, says Radia.

“To date, the President has given a lot of lip service to rethinking regulations, but he hasn’t done much to actually, meaningfully reform the way in which regulatory agencies create and enforce rules,” Radia said.

Committee Member Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) says she looks forward to working to improve the overall regulatory environment. “When it comes to strengthening regulations while at the same time improving their efficiency to help create jobs, we can never do too much,” she said. “That’s why I’ve welcomed the opportunity on my Committee to take a look at these regulations and hear from officials from these various agencies,” she added.

Shaving Red Tape
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he has made regulatory reform a top priority.

“Shortly after the President’s initial Executive Order, I directed FCC staff to follow the spirit of the Order. We had already conducted retrospective reviews, and incorporated cost-benefit analysis into our decision-making,” he said in a statement.

“Every agency can shave some red tape here and there and still carry out its legislative or executive mandate without putting the public or consumer at peril,” said Gipson.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.