Is the New FCC Commissioner “On the Team”?

Lynne Kiesling

Sounds like it; Robert McDowell, the most recent FCC appointee, appears to believe that free and responsible people are capable of making their own decisions in the telecommunications realm:

McDowell, 43, also signaled that he won’t necessarily follow the wishes of FCC Chairman and fellow Republican Kevin Martin. That may make it harder for Martin to push through initiatives such as forcing cable companies to offer television channels separately. The FCC now has three Republican commissioners and two Democrats.

“I trust free markets and free people to make their own decisions,” McDowell said.

McDowell distanced himself from Martin’s efforts to force cable companies to offer their subscribers a wider range of programming packages. Martin has said that à la carte-style programming choices would allow consumers to save money and to avoid programming that they find objectionable.

In response to pressure from Martin and members of Congress, Philadelphia-based Comcast and New York-based Time Warner, the largest cable operators, created a new programming service limited to family-friendly channels.

McDowell said he’s reluctant to take further steps anytime soon. “It may be that consumer demand favors a private-sector resolution to that problem, so let’s see how that goes.”

A focus on enabling private parties to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes instead of using top-down dictum to control the outcome? What a concept!

One thought on “Is the New FCC Commissioner “On the Team”?

  1. As Hayek put it, monopolies do indeed have the opportunity to coerce, using their power in an illiberal fashion. (He insisted on free markets in consequence to his total opposition to coercion of any sort). His prescription for thwarting monopolies power to coerce was not (as in AT&T) to break up a company, but simply to say that they should publish a price list and make that available to anyone. His analogy was that an owner of an oasis in a desert could potentially coerce people in a discriminatory fashion (potentially, for instance, saying that they had to accept him as deity in order to get water) but making him publish a price list takes away this power while not depriving him of using his property in a profitable but non-discriminatory fashion.

    There is a difference between allowing the market to function and a market participant indulging in coercion or fraud. The institutions of capitalism basically enforce a ban on coercion and fraud (e.g. Tyco can make as much profit as it wants and pay its CEO as much as it wants, but it cannot allows misstatements and lies in the accounts presented to its shareholders).

    It may or may not be the case that de facto (and in some cases de jure) monopoly cable companies need not offer their cusomters choice. But touting that as an argument in favor of market capitalism is simply mistaken in my opinion. McDowell’s position is more in the nature of mercantilism where the purpose is not a free society (except for a ban on coercion and fraud, enforced by due process of law), but more that corporate entities should be protected and favored. Mercantilism has plenty of support today, and truly free markets very few…

    Personally, I find it totally acceptable to ask cable monopolies to price their different channels such that people can choose what they want rather than dump it all on everyone and then dupe advertisers of their true subscription rates. Martin’s purpose is motivated by an instinct to censor content, which I disagree with, but it is totally free market in the Hayekian sense to mandate open policies in pricing that prevent coercion and fraud.

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