Many a garried employee trying to fill out paterwork to comply with Federa Communications Commission regulations probably agrees wholeheartedly with the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a high-tech think tank studying a plan to replace the FCC with a drastically scaled-down version of the agency. (And while you’re at it, do the same with the IRS)

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is closely allied with GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is at the forefront of a number of proposals that would overhaul how government conducts business.

Proponents of abolishing the FCC believe the telecommunications industry should follow the computer industry, which has flourished without government oversight. Radically altering the FCC is just one step in a larger process of trying to deregulate the communications industry.

I love think tanks.

Years ago, an East Coast think tank proposed the states of North and South Dakota, Wyoming and a few others be set aside as a national preserve where animals could roam free without the progress of humankind getting in the way. An interesting concept-except for those of us who actually lived in those states and didn’t want to be forced to move to more congested areas so buffalo and prairie dogs would be free from our potential harm. I’m willing to bet FCC employees are a little more suspicious of think tanks these days.

It seems ironic that at a time when the FCC actually is proving its worth-at least in an economic sense by raising $7 billion from spectrum auctions that will be put toward the federal deficit-people are calling for a drastic overhaul of the agency.

It also is ironic that while GOP leaders are hinting about a drastically reduced FCC, the GOP-led Congress is planning to implement telecommunications reform legislation that will require more work from FCC employees.

The FCC clearly is needed in its present form-at least for awhile. The telecommunications industry is on the brink of radical change. Many telephone companies could soon be offering video service, cable companies shortly will begin offering telephone service and other lines are continually blurring between what were once quite-segmented industries.

This competition is going to benefit the public. But while that competition is in its infancy-and perhaps just as importantly, when that competition has matured-some regulation is needed to prevent monopolies.

I’m all for having only the best and the brightest survive, but it’s in the public’s interest to have several bests and brightests.

Think tanks serve a worthy purpose if only to force people into a different way of thinking for a while. Is the FCC needed? Does it serve a purpose that benefits the public? Could another agency do the job better?

Yes. Yes. And no, I say. The FCC is an agency of 2,200 employees trying to make sense of constantly changing industries. California’s Public Utilities Commission employs nearly half that number of people and only monitors rules for one state.

Finding excess in government and eliminating it one agency at a time is more difficult than dumping an entire agency. But it is the more sensible approach.-Tracy Anderson Ford


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