Go Home FCC, You're Drunk

August 3, 2015

In the course of our nation’s history, there have been some institutions that have risen to great heights, and others that have fallen down into the abyss. One of these government institutions, the FCC has experienced both of these in a matter of months. Recently, the FCC was riding high; having broad support of the American public after dealing the hated big internet providers a stinging rebuke by supporting strong Net Neutrality regulations. However, last week, the FCC decided to take that goodwill, crumble it into a ball, douse it in kerosene, light it on fire, and bury it 6 feet underground.

Appearing at a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was clearly overmatched. As the conversation moved toward robocalls, we saw Tom Wheeler open his big mouth, and forcefully jam his foot down his throat. When asked about the legality of Telephone Town Halls, a vital tool of communication for our elected representatives, Chairman Wheeler said they were… wait for it… illegal (and always had been). The reaction from the handful of members left suffering through the clueless testimony of America’s Most Incompetent Regulator™ -and there is stiff competition (we’re looking at you SEC and DEA chairpersons)-was stunning. Almost immediately, both Republican and Democratic members began grilling Wheeler, trying to get him to clarify his position. But, like a tick on the back of your golden retriever, Wheeler would not budge. He stuck to his guns, and repeated that Telephone Town Halls were, and always had been, illegal.

Like a fox who stumbled his way into the henhouse, the Capitol Hill gossip rags were all over this story. The Us Weekly of DC periodicals, Roll Call, was the first to report that the chairman of the FCC had cut off a major thoroughfare of communication for our elected officials. Quickly, The Hill and Politico followed suit, and the FCC was inundated with calls from Congressional staffers, Telephone Town Hall vendors, and concerned constituents. As Congressman Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) pointed out, representatives in large rural districts, where towns are hundreds of miles away, have no feasible way of hosting a district wide in person town hall event that allows constituents an opportunity to hear from their representative, and vice versa. Effectively, the FCC was giving these constituents a big middle finger, and letting them know that the federal government doesn’t give two shits about their access to representative democracy. Confidence in government was at an all time low. Luckily, non-brain-dead FCC spokesperson Will Wiquist clarified human meat puppet Tom Wheelers extreme ineptitude by releasing the following statement, “The Commission’s recent robocall clarifications didn’t impose new restrictions on tele-town halls or congressional outreach to constituents.” PHEW! What a relief. It’s so wonderful that some shmoe was able to clarify that for us. If only the man in charge of the FCC actually understood its policies.

What this fun adventure in regulatory cluelessness has shown us is that the FCC has absolutely no freaking clue about what they are doing. They have no idea. They are jumping from popular position, to popular position, without thinking about what the impact would be. Take the Net Neutrality debate as a key example. Initially, Chairman Wheeler, a former Comcast stooge, wanted to create a multi-tiered internet where ISPs would determine who wins, and who loses. It was only after one of the largest grassroots uprisings we have seen in recent times, did the FCC consider changing their position. This is how the FCC operates. Take an asinine position on an issue that infuriates consumers, act shocked and surprised when the public revolts, defend to the end their idiotic idea, and then finally do the right thing after much pushing and nudging. This is no way to regulate. This is no way to lead. This is no way to do anything.

But, the FCC has been doing this for years. Telephony communication is one of the greatest innovations in human history. People could connect to anyone around the world in a matter of seconds. It was game changing technology. However, to protect the average American, and ensure that everyone would have equal coverage, President Franklin Roosevelt created the FCC. Their mission was simple, “make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nationwide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.” As telephone technology changed in the late 1980s and 1990s, the FCC decided to stick their nose into how telephones were allowed to be used. The Do Not Call Registry was created by a law that was passed by a Republican Congress, and signed by a Republican President. This free-market-limiting boondoggle effectively allowed the government to dictate which individuals and businesses could use phones, and for what. (We at Control Point Group have heard from Republicans for decades now that the Government just needs to get out of the way.) The implementation of the Do Not Call Registry lead to massive upheaval in the telephony communications market, and caused dozens of small businesses to crater and go out of business. (The Republican party’s platform states “Federal and State regulations that thwart job creation must be withdrawn…” Somehow, the DNC List isn’t “thwarting” job creation, or at least wasn’t when a Republican was in charge, but we digress). But, that wasn’t the end of the FCC’s overbearing regulations on telephony communications.

One of the most regulated industries and consumer products in our country is sitting in your pocket or purse right now. That’s right; cell phones. As cellular devices became more and more popular, the FCC sought to bring the “heavy boot of regulation down on the throat” of America’s direct communications firms. The FCC tied themselves into knots with the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act that declared that firms could continue using “autodialer” technology to landline phones, while cell phones were now off limits. An informed consumer might ask, CPG, what are autodialers? That’s a great question. Autodialers are any system of automatic electronic dialing of telephone numbers. But CPG, I haven’t dialed an actual number in years. In fact, I don’t even know any of my friends’ actual phone numbers. Isn’t my use of speed dial and preprogrammed numbers an autodialer? Great question informed consumer. The answer is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The FCC regulations regarding autodialers were written in 1991. 1991! Do you know what the “top of the line” cell phone was in 1991?

Motorola DynaTAC 8800X

That brick right there is the Motorola DynaTAC 8800X, the newest cell phone of 1991! This is the phone regulators were working with when they created the autodialer rule. Even as Americans move away from landline phones as if they were the plague, the FCC refuses to consider changing their regulations. If the technology they were working off of is so outdated, why are we still bound by these outdated regulations? The reason, informed consumer, is that the FCC is just winging it. They are making it up as they go. And the scariest thing is that we haven’t the slightest clue what they will do next. Other than faxes- yes those apparently still exist- telephones are the only form of communication where the FCC has stated that advertising is strictly prohibited. What will they do next? The FCC has been on a slippery slope since they decided to destroy the free-market of telephone communications, and we should all be concerned. Especially since the chairman of the FCC had to once come out with a statement to say, “I am not a dingo” in response to his completely idiotic policies.

The nation has finally seen that the proverbial FCC emperor has no clothes. The chairman is a buffoon, plain and simple. He does not know the basics about what he is supposed to be in charge of. His past actions and the actions of his predecessors have showed us that the FCC is clueless. They refuse to get with the times, and continue to show their ineptitude on simple and basic issues. We need to take a hard look at our telephony laws. They are unnecessarily oppressive, and restricting. The FCC has it in its power to change these regulations; to modernize and to make more efficient. Instead, the chairman wants to cling to his asinine interpretation of a 24 year old regulation based on technology that has been obsolete for over 2 decades. Our regulations for food and drug manufacturing keep up with the changing industry, as does our regulations for motor vehicle safety. Why the hell can’t our technology regulations keep up with the technology industry? The disconnect is vast, and disturbing to anyone willing to look. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (Not Dingo- Comcast) pulled the veneer off of the FCC, and hopefully for good.


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