I’m at the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s Aspen Summit, where Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell has just given the back of the hand to moves by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) and others to overturn the FCC’s recently passed media consolidation rules.
(Note: The Progress & Freedom Foundation takes a forcefully pro-market, anti-regulation approach to just about everything. That view pervades the panel line-ups at this conference.)
Powell sounded almost contemptuous of Dorgan, saying the proposal would not restore a status quo that would please the opponents of media consolidation. Rather, he said, it would create a situation they might find even worse.
First, he said, the commission restricted radio deregulation somewhat. Overturning that would give a free hand to further radio consolidation.
Second, a federal appeals court has repeatedly told the commission it can’t do much in the way to restrict consolidation in the first place. Does Dorgan want those rulings to be the law of the land?
A simple repeal “is not a sound policy result for the American people,” Powell said.
He did acknowledge that the rebellion against the media-control rules demonstrates deep public concern, and said policy makers need to wake up to this. But then he slapped the worriers, saying the public statements of doubt over his policies, show “how little the facts seem to matter anymore.”
Asked whether regulators need to step in to ensure “network neutrality” — an assurance not to discriminate against certain content online — Powell said it’s best to keep an eye on the situation but not regulate unless a visible problem crops up. (He seems to believe the architecture won’t itself discriminate, thereby making a fix nearly impossible or at least hugely disruptive; if he’s wrong we’re all in trouble.)
By the way, Powell won’t be quitting his post anytime soon, contrary to rumors. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said.