Office of Economics and Analytics Will Enhance the Role of Economics in FCC Decision Making
The Federal Communications Commission has a critical role overseeing the most dynamic sector of our economy. Despite being home to a wealth of telecommunications policy expertise and a talented and dedicated group of public servants, for too long the agency has been missing a key piece of the decision-making puzzle: robust market and economic analysis.
The FCC has good economists among its ranks, although their ranks are relatively thin at an agency dominated by civil servants with a background primarily in the law. Just as important as their lack of relative quantity is the fact that the voices of economists have often been muted during legal and policy debates at the Commission. This is set to be remedied today, when the Commission will vote on an Order to create a new Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA).
The FCC collects reams of data each year, ranging from broadband deployment to video and broadcast information to consumer complaints. The agency is also tasked with administering a variety of complex and market-based mechanisms, from wireless spectrum auctions to distributing components of the Universal Service Fund and allocating radio licenses. These many activities live in bureaus and offices across the Commission, but until now, there has been no coordinated effort to harness this mountain of information and expertise to better inform FCC decisions.
The OEA has the potential to put empirical economic analysis at the forefront of the FCC’s considerations, rather than the belated after thought it has been in the past. This new office will have real authority in the rulemaking process and is empowered to be an important check against regulation driven by politics. Of course, a change in structure alone will not produce the promised benefits of the new Office. The OEA must be sufficiently provided with the independence it needs to provide effective input into the deliberative process.
Disruption and convergence in the communications marketplace challenges policymakers to be nimble and forward-looking. The creation of the Office of Economic Analysis is just the latest example of how the FCC is rising to meet the demands of the 21st century digital economy. Consumers, innovators, and the public interest will be better served by an FCC that puts economic analysis front and center.