Future of the FCC Conference

The Future of the FCC

FCC Building - Shot from below

A 21ST CENTURY, FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION

What will it look like? What are its priorities? What should it do?

It is by now commonplace to refer to the "digital revolution" in information services and worldwide communications. The digitizing of information has produced an astonishing array of technologies and information delivery mechanisms that just a short time ago was the stuff of science fiction. The personal computer, HDTV, cell phones, the Internet, wireless networks, and satellite services of all sorts are just a few of the products and services that digital technology has delivered. Recently, the PC decade yielded to the Web-based services decade and most new services and intellectual property will be delivered over the Web, including streaming video, music, IP telephony and advanced e-commerce applications etc. These services will be digital and rely on Internet protocols using high-speed Internet connections that deliver intellectual property to a vast array of intelligent or semi-intelligent edge-devices. The rapid convergence is not only across services and platforms, but between communications and computing technologies as well.

Sponsored by the Duke Fellowship in Intellectual Property and the Public Domain with the support of the Center for the Public Domain and the Ford Foundation

The Federal Communications Commission was created about 70 years ago largely to regulate radio and telephones and to ensure its licensees served the "public interest, convenience and necessity." The Commission has recently noted that the convergence of formerly distinct services into digital platforms created the potential for "intermodal" competition, like that between trucks, trains, and planes in transportation." Some say this competition is not occurring because the FCC is organized around, and saddled with, legacy regulatory models that treat existing networks based on the single application they previously delivered. Others contend that it is not occurring because the FCC has ignored a Congressional mandate appearing in the 1996 Telecommunications Act to "deregulate" and instead has continued to rely on an overextended public interest authority to delay competition thereby frustrating innovation and the efficient deployment of capital and allocation of company resources. Others would go farther and propose abolishing the FCC altogether as an anachronism from the New Deal era when government intervention was preferred over market solutions. As media companies get larger, telephone, wireless, satellite and cable companies compete to deliver the same services and products, and most intellectual property becomes just another bitstream, it is time to ask: what should the FCC look like in the future and what should its mission be in the digital era?