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March 16th, 2018 12:32 pm
Congress Must Prevent Crony Capitalism and Spending Waste in FCC Reauthorization
Posted by Timothy Lee Print

As Congress considers reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), it must exercise extreme diligence to prevent it from becoming a vehicle for crony capitalism and waste of taxpayer dollars.

Currently, Congressional FCC reauthorization includes provisions that would reimburse broadcasters in spectrum incentive auctions, which could in turn be exploited to subsidize the upcoming ATSC 3.0 transition, as many had predicted.  By way of background, ATSC 3.0 refers to the upcoming transition to yet another new broadcasting standard, which will force over-the-air viewers to purchase new television sets or converter equipment at their own expense.  If that rings a bell, it’s for good reason.  That’s what occurred in recent years with the last conversion.

Here’s the problem.  Current provisions could constitute a blank check at taxpayer expense to broadcasters so that they could fund new equipment for the transition from the U.S. Treasury, as the legislation creates a new Treasury Fund in an undisclosed amount of money.  Although broadcasters ostensibly must direct the money they receive only toward costs associated with the spectrum auction, the likely scenario remains that the FCC will remain unable to detect and stop waste, fraud and abuse if the funds are used instead to upgrade their equipment in pursuit of ATSC 3.0.

Accordingly, it’s important that Congress not allow this legislation to become a wasteful open account for broadcasters to exploit for their own benefit at taxpayer expense.  At a minimum, they must establish greater safeguards to ensure that waste, fraud and abuse are not allowed, and that American consumers are not deprived of access to over-the-air TV access as a consequence of necessary installation of ATSC 3.0 transition equipment funded by taxpayers, whether in whole or in part.

To be clear, we welcome any and all technological and telecommunications advancement in this field, but we must also remain vigilant against the looming likelihood of crony capitalism and waste of taxpayer dollars in an era of growing deficits and debt.  Congress must therefore ensure that protections against those possibilities are incorporated into upcoming FCC reauthorization.

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