McDowell Speaks Out Against Wireless Broadband Network Neutrality Proposal
FCC Commissioner Makes Remarks At Mercatus Center & The Progress & Freedom Foundation Event
John Eggerton 10/29/2009 12:07:00 PM

Federal Communications Commission Republican Robert McDowell is cautioning the agency not to allow the understandable uncertainty about new technology to "lure us into unwarranted regulation, which may be difficult or impossible to reverse."

The reference was to the Democrat-led proposal to codify and expand network neutrality rules and apply them to wireless broadband.

McDowell's forum was a conference marking the 50th anniversary of an article by economist Ronald Coase that argued for a free market, rather than a government-controlled market, for spectrum.

In a speech at a Mercatus Center & The Progress & Freedom Foundation event Thursday marking that anniversary, McDowell pointed out that Coase had written "lawyers and economists should not be so overwhelmed by the emergence of new technologies as to change the existing legal and economic system without first making quite certain that this is required."

"Coase's advice may be all the more relevant today as the Commission contemplates imposing a potentially wide-ranging regulatory regime on another new technology -broadband access to the Internet," said McDowell.

McDowell also said Coase would have been the first to warn against the FCC "allocating spectrum among competing interest groups." Citing the open access conditions put on the 700 MHz spectrum auctions, McDowell warned that, depending on how the FCC's network neutrality proposal shakes out, "we might one day point to the open access mandates in the 700 MHz auctions as the first step towards network management regulation of the wireless sector."

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has proposed applying the newly codified rules to wireless broadband, which he sees as a key element to universal broadband.

McDowell also jumped off of Coase's free market arguments to take aim at the fairness doctrine and the spectrum scarcity rationale for media ownership rules.

"After several decades we're still debating the potential for the resurrection of something akin to the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine,' even if we're not certain what the next iteration of it might be called, what platforms it might cover, or how it might be enforced," he said.

But McDowell said Coase's counsel a half century ago about the problems with public-interest regulation "remain[s] equally applicable for today's media landscape and help us understand why it would be such a serious mistake to reinstitute this misguided doctrine, which the FCC wisely took off the books in 1987."