Academic Research and Its Limited Impact on Telecommunications Policy Making

Rob Frieden, Penn State University

In an ideal world, uncontaminated by partisanship and political agendas, academic researchers have much-needed qualifications and skills that can contribute to rational decision-making by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By law, the FCC has to combine its in-house expertise with a transparent and complete collection of evidence when establishing rules, regulations and policies. Sadly, the FCC’s “Notice and Comment” rulemaking proceedings rarely include filings from academic researchers lacking financial sponsorship from a stakeholder with the resources and incentives to steer the Commission to a preferred outcome. Absent a financial incentive, both tenured and tenure track professors eschew policy advocacy, largely because such efforts have little influence on the FCC and also generate limited recognition as academic contributions.

This essay will consider whether and how academic researchers might achieve a greater impact even when the FCC displays an inherent bias toward results-driven decision-making. With increasing regularity, the FCC generates and seeks empirical data that supports preferred or preordained policies.

For example, the Commission established a low bit rate threshold to support the conclusion that robust high-speed broadband competition exists in the United States. The Commission also sought to demonstrate that à la carte access to cable television programming would foist higher costs on consumers, but later reversed its position possibly because of reassessment of the political liabilities from its initial findings.

Additionally, stakeholders happily support the Commission’s agenda by sponsoring academic and consultant research and by submitting advocacy documents masquerading as rigorous in-house, academic or third party research. (…)

The full essay online:

IJoC – International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)

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