Sign in / Join

Great moments in regulation - II

This one is playing out before our very eyes. From the redoubtable Tom Hazlett, in Slate:

Satellite radio broadcasting was first authorized in 1997, when two licenses were issued to the companies now known as XM and Sirius. Their applications had taken seven years for the Federal Communications Commission to approve, mainly because the National Association of Broadcasters charged that the new service threatened "traditional American values of community cohesion and local identity." (It also threatened revenues. But at the time, the FCC found that traditional radio stations drew 80 percent of their income from local advertising, which suggested that national competition would not be too damaging to existing stations.) The irony, of course, was that just as lobbyists for traditional broadcasters were making arguments about the integrity of regional identity, local stations were airing more and more national programming, and companies like Infinity and Clear Channel were launching their ambitious industry consolidation. But the NAB pressure worked both to delay satellite rivals and to get the FCC to craft license rules that seemed to ensure that satellite service would air only national shows.

.......The notion that traditional broadcasters deliver idiosyncratic menus closely tailored to local audiences is a quaint one. Nationally syndicated content has become the order of the radio day, and satellite programming is, if anything, less cookie-cutter than its earth-bound analogs. That this debate has been framed along such outmoded lines illustrates how increasingly strained the concept of "local" has become. Regulators lacking spatial skills are charting geographic divides when they should be mapping communities of interest. Satellite radio caters to niche preferences in music or politics by connecting dispersed audiences. The opera buff in Tuscaloosa, left for deaf by "local" radio, connects with her community when tuning to satellite radio's 100 channels. To characterize satellite programs as uniform because they are nationally distributed is absurd. To then mandate that uniformity is worse.

Makes one wonder if we'd be better off if the FCC were put out of business. Read the whole thing.