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New cable TV power grab shows why free speech will not be safe until the FCC disbands. And now, it can. 11/20/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in FCC.
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The FCC was founded in 1934 on the false premise that broadcasting frequencies are scarce and precious, requiring government to make sure that discrete “channels” are assigned only to responsible parties. Perhaps we can understand this misperception given the limited knowledge of technology back then. But, now we know that the electromagnetic spectrum contains an infinite number of frequencies and can be split into as many channels and assigned to as many parties as transmission and reception technologies allow. In fact, some new technologies don’t even require dedicated frequencies.

America has paid a heavy price for the FCC continuing to insist that broadcast frequencies are precious even though they know they are not, a practice a reasonable person might call “lying.” Free speech has been the biggest casualty, as we hear only voices from a handful of corporations that are regularly granted something truly precious — a broadcast license renewable for acting in ways that avoid offending politicians. Not surprisingly, self-styled “courageous” network journalists have become neutered, pro-government-establishment lapdogs, clearly a different breed from their cousins on unlicensed and relatively unregulated cable TV news channels.

But now, FCC chairman Kevin Martin is making a power grab to regulate cable TV in addition to broadcast channels, which would ultimately lead to chilled free speech on that medium, too. His effort may be well-intentioned, allowing us to purchase unbundled cable channels separately, but inevitably this new precedent of cable receiving similar government regulation to broadcast will be used for ill purposes. Since technology no longer requires government licensing of channels, it is time for the FCC to dissolve. Technology and a free market will by themselves open-up the broadcast spectrum and ensure the public is well-served. TV channels are not precious. Free speech is.

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