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Comments of
Harold Furchtgott-Roth
Federal Communications Commission

Before the National Association of Broadcasters
Radio Show

September 22, 2000
San Francisco, California

Sixty years ago this month, the civilized world hung by a thread. Wave after wave of seemingly invincible modern German aircraft bombed Britain. It was a story brought to the American public by radio. (But that is a story for a different day.)

New technology was in abundance. And to many, new technology was evil. It was more powerful than the individual. Its destructive power was incalculable. Against the evil use of new technology, individuals were defeated. They were powerless. Hopeless.

Englishmen looked to their central government in London. Could a good government stand up to the evil application of technology?

It would have been easy to declare defeat. Other nations had fallen. Why should Britain be different?

When a nation faces defeat eye to eye, when all else fails, it must decide whether to declare defeat or to seek victory. And even then, only a resolute spirit could imagine victory, and fight for victory, when defeat seemed imminent.

Britain used a combination of tenacity and the application of new technology to win the Battle of Britain 60 years ago.

Today, there is no Nazi Germany, no Soviet Union, no Evil Empire, no reason for America to declare defeat. By all measures, America is triumphant, and Americans have never had it so good.

America is the land of opportunity. Given a chance, hundreds of millions of people would come to America simply for a chance at a better life. Those who can--come.

Americans, by contrast, are free to emigrate practically anywhere in the world. Few do.

It doesn't get much better than America.

America should be triumphant. But you would not know it in Washington. Washington loves to declare America defeated.

Our markets--defeated.

Our consumers--defeated.

Our businesses--EVIL, EVIL, EVIL, unless we regulate them.

Only the government can save us.

No one argues for more regulation because everything is going perfectly well. Arguments for more regulation beyond the minimum required by law are based on lamentations of defeat.

Something is wrong.

Markets failed.

Consumers failed.

Businesses are EVIL, EVIL, EVIL.

And no one can save us from certain defeat except the government.

Outside Washington, America is triumphant.

Inside Washington, America is defeated and hangs by a thread. Every day, people tell me America is defeated, and we need MORE regulation beyond what is required by law.

I sometimes think of Churchill, for whom defeat was palpably closer in 1940 than for a Washington lobbyist in 2000. What would he think of Washington today?

I believe that it is time to bring American victory to Washington. We need to save the immense power of government, including extraordinary regulation, for real problems and real threats of defeat, not for imaginary problems, not for enemies we have already defeated.

Defeatists are attracted to Washington like a bear to honey. In Washington is the panacea to cure every ill. It is called unwarranted government intervention, and it is all too common at the FCC.

The defeatists come and ask for low power FM radio, and they are rewarded with new rules and regulations.

The defeatists complain about market definitions, and they are rewarded with new rules about markets that enable yet more regulation at both the national and regional levels.

The defeatists complain about all sorts of ills that have no specific mention in law and have no clear evidence in fact. Yet the Commission rewards these complaints--where else--in new public interest obligations.

The defeatists complain about individual companies, particularly when they are transferring licenses from one to another. And what happens? The defeatists are rewarded and the companies are punished.

The defeatists go to great lengths to complain about scarcity in broadcast spectrum, and they are rewarded with every conceivable effort to preserve the archaic Red Lion doctrine. With the possible exception of bad ideas, scarcity applies to practically everything, not uniquely broadcast spectrum. The rash of bad regulations that have been promulgated under Red Lion do not apply to the equally scarce non-broadcast spectrum. We place peculiar burdens on ownership of and the content conveyed on the less than one percent of spectrum reserved for broadcast purposes, and we do not place similar restrictions on the remaining 99+ percent of spectrum. Most of these other licensees meet the same standards used by the hectoring defeatists. Most of these licensees did not pay for their licenses. They have a "scarce" resource." They transmit information.

More importantly, scarcity of broadcast spectrum is not equivalent to a limitation on means to disseminate, distribute, or express any conceivable views or ideas. That broadcasters held a unique role in the distribution of information at the time of the Red Lion decision is arguable. That there is any unique warranting special regulations today is to deny the technological developments of recent decades and the reality of the market today. In short it is an argument that can only be made by modern day defeatists.

And they make those arguments with great eloquence.

Indeed broadcasting today is no longer a well-defined market. Your competition today is not just other broadcasters. Your competition includes cable-casters, satellite-casters, Internet-casters, wireless internet-casters, as well as all of your friends in the newspaper, publishing, and motion picture industries.

Today, one can receive practically any audio service over the Internet. Tomorrow, the same will be true of video services. None of these services is regulated, at least not in the same sense that broadcasters are regulated. Nor are the pipelines--wire, satellite, or terrestrial--regulated to the same extent that you are.

For decades, you have been trying to get rid of the Fairness Doctrine. Most of your competitors do not have a Fairness Doctrine. They editorialize all of the time. And the American public is the better for it.

Your competitors do not have the same EEO rules or the same ownership rules, or the same reporting requirements, or the same public interest obligations.

Many of you may have wondered why you do not just give up broadcasting altogether and become an Internet-caster. And, why not? No regulation. No limitation on format. No limitation on advertising.

If you are in business in America, you know that your competition is on the Internet. And you know that markets are not structured as they were just a few years ago. And you know that unnecessary government regulation is--well--useless.

Let's take your typical 25-year old Silicon Valley CEO. If I were to tell her that her Internet audio and video streaming company had to abide by the same regulations that broadcasters have--Fairness Doctrine, EEO rules, political advertising rules, content regulation, ownership limitations, network limitations, content rules, and volumes of FCC rules--what would happen? The CEO would think that I was crazy. She would say: "I'm on the Internet. What planet do you come from?"

Just Washington.

People in Washington just don't get it. They think that they solve all of society's ills by regulating broadcast content.

They can regulate FCC licensees until they are driven out of business, but they cannot regulate all content programmers, packagers, or distributors. Just ask any 12 year old or anyone who does not live in Washington.

Broadcasters are declining share of distribution of information and entertainment but shoulder an increasing share of the blame for what troubles of America. The lack of political discourse; the excesses of sex and violence. When the defeatist lobbyists proclaim America defeated, the culprit invariably is at least partially the broadcast industry.

For years, broadcasters have looked to Washington for special treatment. Broadcasters have expected, indeed, insisted on special regulation. And, as long as similarly situated companies were treated the same, the excesses of Washington regulation harmed everyone equally.

That peculiar equilibrium no longer holds with the Internet and other new technologies. Regulation is your peculiar punishment. You have it. New technology does not.

New technologies and new markets flourish not because of regulation or government intervention. Contrary to the view often created in Washington, the FCC did not create broadcast technology nor broadcast markets. Americans have always wanted information and entertainment. New technologies have come along to provide those services. As with all markets, demand has created supply, and not visa versa.

Paradoxically, it is the broadcast technology and industry that predated and even led to the creation of FCC regulation, first for radio, and later for television. But other new technologies have not created ass invasive a form of regulation, if any. The defeatists have been less successful in attacking them.

Radio broadcasting has a bright future, but only if the FCC brings its regulations into the 21st Century. Your competitors on the Internet do not face such regulation, and likely never will. You cannot survive if you are regulated to death.

We have two choices as a Nation. We can look at the new generation of technologies and declare defeat. We can say that these new technologies are threatening to defeat us, to destroy and to conquer us.

They threaten to defeat our businesses.

They threaten to conquer our consumers.

They threaten to destroy our markets.

And our only choice, as a Nation, is to fight back and to regulate these new technologies before they defeat us.

The defeatists would have us limit the use of new technology, to regulate the new as we have regulated the old, to punish anyone who chooses to use it, to declare new technology evil unless regulated by Washington.

Or we can look at these new technologies and see them for what they are.

A better America.

A triumphant America.

A richer and more vibrant America.

An America in which businesses, old and new, can thrive and do the unimaginable.

An America in which consumers are truly sovereign.

An America in which new technologies liberate all of us.

They liberate us from less useful technologies.

They liberate us from useless regulation.

I say: Let's declare victory in America, not defeat.