Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Revolving Door at the FCC

On page 287 of Blown to Bits, we discuss the incestuous relationships between the regulators and the regulated in the world of information flows.

And then there is the revolving door. Most communications jobs are in the private sector. FCC employees know that their future lies in the commercial use of the spectrum. Hundreds of FCC staff and officials, including all eight past FCC chairmen, have gone to work for or represented the businesses they regulated. These movements from government to private employment violate no government ethics rules. But FCC officials can be faced with a choice between angering a large incumbent that is a potential employer, and disap- pointing a marginal start-up or a public interest non-profit. It is not surprising that they remember that they will have to earn a living after leaving the FCC.
Even by historical standards, today's news is appalling. FCC Commissioner Attwell Baker is leaving the FCC to become a lobbyist for Comcast, just four months after voting to approve the controversial merger of Comcast with NBC United. We are, once again, going down the path to information monopoly. We have been there before, indeed we were there already in the late 19th century.

A few years ago a man started a news bureau in Cincinnati. A correspondent in New-York filed the market reports each morning and the Cincinnati gentleman sold the information to customers. The Western Union asked him to sell out to them and he refused; thereupon his messages were taken away from the “through” wire and sent by a “way” wire. The difference in time was an hour, and the man was ruined. (New York Times, February 8, 1883)

Information monopolies are dangerous to democracy. Where is the outrage about these people pretending to serve the public interest and then jumping ship to the industries? Or indeed, is that really the order in which these events happened?

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