Down With The FCC! Up With Drawn Out Lawsuits!
By Mike Masnick, Mon Jun 07 19:15:00 GMT 2004

There are many arguments for why the FCC needs to go. However, the alternatives, so far, look even worse than the status quo. Major reform is needed -- but that doesn't necessarily mean starting from scratch.


There's been a growing movement of people who say that the FCC is outdated and irrelevant thanks to modern technology. The entire point of spectrum allocation is the idea that spectrum is limited, and if that's not true, why have spectrum allocation policy at all?

There's another movement, however, that doesn't much care whether spectrum is limited or not - but suggests that spectrum allocation policy is completely unnecessary when disagreements can just be settled in the courts. The argument, basically, is that spectrum should get sold off for real (and not just "licensed" from the FCC under limited terms and conditions) and then let trespass law deal with any conflicts.

While the FCC certainly has its problems, and throwing things open to the free market has its appeal, there are two major problems with this plan. First, is that there is a legacy problem. Any attempt to make such a major game change at this point will throw much of the system into upheaval and will delay anything getting done for quite some time. The lawsuits alone from those who are the "losers" under this scenario pretty much guarantee that there would be years of stagnation in wireless spectrum issues. This also brings up the second problem: relying on trespassing laws to solve interference issues means many more years in court any time anything goes wrong. Just look at how long it took to sort out the NextWave spectrum fight in the courts while all that spectrum was stuck in limbo.

Clearly, major changes are needed in the FCC - with a much more comprehensive and well thought out spectrum allocation process being put in place. In fact, it may make sense to figure out ways to phase out the FCC's role as it becomes less and less necessary. However, advocating sudden and immediate shutting down of the FCC will lead to plenty of unnecessary turmoil in the short term. It's an extreme solution that may be fun to state, but is difficult to back up.