To bring everyone up to date, the announced purpose was to “to identify and understand the critical information needs (CINs) of the American public (with special emphasis on vulnerable/disadvantaged populations).” They planned to do this with an intricate, voluntary (ha!), study (78 page pdf) that was leaked to the press by one of the commissioners, Ajit Pai, in the Wall Street Journal. They had a list of things they wanted to ask which are clearly beyond the legal basis of their formation:
• What is the news philosophy of the station?For any supporters of this nonsense who drop by, pardon us if we don't wait for you while you go look up the Communications Act of 1934 that established the FCC (and its updates) so you can come back and tell us just what section says they have anything to say about station demographics.
• Who is your target audience?
• How do you define critical information that the community needs?
• How do you ensure the community gets this critical information?
• How much does community input influence news coverage decisions?
• What are the demographics of the news management staff (HR)?
• What are the demographics of the on air staff (HR)?
• What are the demographics of the news production staff (HR)?
Ajit Pai noted that it gets more intrusive than this:
The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. One question for reporters is: "Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?" Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.Now it's clear from the recent history of the FCC that their real goal is to redistribute the broadcast spectrum to these "vulnerable/disadvantaged populations" that they're asking about so a key question is: what can this survey possibly do to further that goal? The answer is to disqualify the current owners of those stations so that the FCC and pull their license and reallocate it to the politically favorable groups; "my people" as Eric Holder said.
As that September 2010 link above shows, I've been ragging on the FCC for almost as long as this blog has been here, and a simple search shows that in June of '11 I was explaining why I think they're a useless agency. Let me put it plain and simple: I'm a radio engineer. I work with the FCC requirements. I know what the FCC certification tests are and I know the FCC rules. The FCC hasn't done anything worthwhile technically in so long I can't remember. You might suggest the introduction of digital TV, but that was a pretty royal fustercluck. The technically sharp minds at the FCC get run over by the political apparatchiks all the time. The result is the agency is useless. Shut them down. Board it up. Send them all home.
Except that you can't; at least, not completely. Not without tearing up tons of international and US laws. See, the radio spectrum is allocated so that specific services get bands of frequencies allocated to them. Here's a simplified version of one - you'd need the wall-sized version to read it.
coordinate where in the frequency spectrum these systems went, so they could operate with each other. It would make life difficult for a pilot or boater who needed totally different radio systems for every country they visited. The regulatory bodies would put compatible services near each other; for example the taxi radios would be near the police radios because both were local communications, intended to not travel very far, and used similar modulation types at similar powers. Marine radios got placed in the same general part of the spectrum. High power services, like FM or TV broadcasters, were separated from services subject to damaging interference from them. Likewise, weak-signal satellite services like GPS receivers were kept far from the strong broadcasters (the ill-fated Lightsquared service threatened to disrupt every GPS receiver in the US by putting a stronger local signal where it could interfere with the much weaker GPS).
While we could change this approach with modern technologies, to disrupt these allocations would require every radio owner in the country to get new radios compatible with however the spectrum was reallocated, and that is such an economic disaster we couldn't possibly change over to such a system. (A disaster for everyone except for whoever sells the radios ... and the government officials who order the change). So we need an FCC enforcement force to monitor interference issues and enforce spectrum rules. The enforcement arm of the FCC, which simply mails out citations, collects fines, and negotiates settlements (example) is a substantial part of the commission's budget, but there's much money to be saved by shutting everything else down, too.
As long as people get apoplectic from a wardrobe malfunction, de-funding the FCC is going to be an uphill battle. Maybe this tyrannical power grab by the FCC might make that fight a little easier.