FCC Might Actually Roll Back an Outdated Regulation!

If you wanted to communicate over long distances in real-time 25 years ago, you had little choice but to rely on your local phone company for carriage. Email and mobile phones were still oddities, and neither SMS text messages nor tweets had even been conceived.

Federal regulators, concerned that some companies might not maintain a  high level of service, imposed reporting requirements so the FCC could monitor phone companies and ensure calls were being handled properly.

Fast forward to 2008, and the traditional phone company is but one of numerous firms providing voice and data services to consumers. From cable digital voice to cell phones to free, IP-based applications like Skype, there are a growing number of ways to talk to people in another part of the country. Yet federal regulators have continued enforcing strict reporting requirements on phone companies, forcing these firms to spend countless man-hours filling out forms that some Washington bureaucrat may one day glance over. And these FCC rules apply exclusively to phone companies, putting them at an unfair advantage simply because they happen to be older and more well-established.

As we’ve discussed many times before, the FCC’s paperwork-intensive service quality reporting rules impose millions of dollars in compliance costs on phone companies. These costs are passed on to customers, resulting in higher prices without any actual benefit.

The FCC’s service quality reporting requirements needlessly duplicate the function of a competitive marketplace. How could a phone company get away with subpar service without losing customers to superior competitors? Market discipline-not federal regulation-is ultimately what pushes telecom firms strive for high quality service.

Fortunately, in a notice published today in the Federal Register, the FCC describes its plans to provide regulatory relief to AT&T and Verizon, among others. This needed reform will help reduce unneeded regulations, possibly translating into more competitive offerings from telephone companies.

Of course, the Federal Register is loaded with myriad regulations that, collectively, cost Americans well over $1 trillion dollars per year (as CEI catalogues in its annual publication, Ten Thousand Commandments: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State). The FCC’s decision to relieve telcos of reporting rules is a welcome move, but we have a long way to go before the regulatory leviathan is in check.