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Born free

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 12:17pm
Brian Santo

Republicans and Democrats introducing competing bills is common enough to be unremarkable. But the differences between the two bills introduced to address the broken TV regulatory framework provide an especially stark difference between the practical and the frivolous.

The GOP version peddles extreme-right dogma: regulations are unnatural and must be eliminated; markets should be free.

Everything free is good, right? Free cookies, and free-range chickens, and free-for-alls! Born free! As free as the wind blows! As free as the grass grows! Born free-e-e-e-e!

Whew. Was that good for you too?

Of course, the only thing that’s free in a free market is the free rein that the most affluent corporations have to impose their wills on everyone else, and if that isn’t good for individual Americans, boo hoo, go cry to Milton Friedman. What? He’s dead? Bummer for you, eh?

Except this time “everyone else” includes other affluent companies who aren’t interested in getting steamrolled by their corporate “partners,” and therefore aren’t buying Scalise’s free-market drivel. (This time, anyway).

You have to wonder if Scalise was even trying to do anything beyond inspire his campaign donors. He put no effort into his bill – just look at that acronym: NGTMA. What are we supposed to do with that? Pronouncing it is a nightmare: N-n-ngitma? Ingateema? Nagtama? Once upon a time, the GOP gave us the PATRIOT Act – now there was an acronym you could get behind! Even if it did give the U.S. Government greater freedom to spy on Americans. Yay, more freedom, right? But I digress.

The Dems are looking to just fix the problem with a minimum of fuss and move on. Plus, they win the inspiring acronym battle here with Video Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment, or “Video Choice”!

Been watching “Agents of Shield”? It’s not that good, but this all reminds me of this exchange from the first episode:

Maria Hill: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?

Agent Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.

Maria Hill: And what does that mean to you?

Agent Ward: It means somebody really wanted our initials to spell "shield".

The regulatory framework created through the ’92 Cable Act and the ’96 Communications Acts is, in fact, broken though, and it does need fixing.

The major complaint about these laws is that they were outdated shortly after they were enacted, failing to account for innovation, and that’s entirely true.

But the other problem is that they were flawed from the beginning. For at least the last 40 years, most U.S. laws have had to straddle two incompatible philosophies. One philosophy is that law can and should be used to minimize harm to citizens, including economic harm; the other philosophy is that there should be no restrictions on commerce for any reason, including the prevention of economic harm to citizens. The latter is an extension of the “free market” philosophy.

These diametrically opposed philosophies played out in the Cable and Communications Acts, and even without the innovation of broadband the communications, the industry had a mess on its hands. Then classifying “broadband” as something other than “communications” on free-market grounds was senseless and created more problems than it solved.

I believe in checks and balances all through the system. Scalise probably legitimately believes he’s trying to solve the problem, but he’s just going to make things worse by removing checks and unbalancing the market. Eshoo’s plan might be just a grab-bag of baby steps, but they’re baby steps all in the right direction, providing real relief to a lot of companies that need it, while retaining checks that actually do more to maintain a level playing field than Scalise can by simply dispensing with regulations.

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