Mercatus Center Working Paper No. 11-46. Thomas W. Hazlett, Professor of Law & Economics, George Mason University School of Law
Stressed-out undergrads meet deadlines for term papers by cramming facts, figures, and buzzwords; splicing Wikipedia entries; pasting select expert quotations; citing everything twice; inserting some nifty, multi-color pie charts—and hoping that the professor notes the paper‘s girth but not its (lack of) substance. If such a paper says anything at all, the student is unaware of it. Yet it does not overshoot the cosmic probability table that an all-nighter pays off and someone, somewhere, learns something. Welcome to the Federal Communications Commission‘s 15th Annual Report and Analysis of Competitive Market Conditions With Respect to Mobile Wireless, released June 27, 2011. The FCC Report makes mistakes with the Commission‘s own data.2 It contains typos.3 It omits crucial, relevant, and available facts. It wastes page after page discussing tangential issues.4 Indeed, the Report avoids discussing the state of “effective competition” in what is entitled an “analysis of competitive market conditions.” With just 308 pages, 1,306 footnotes, 6 appendices, and 18 years to prepare its templates and hone its analysis (since Congress mandated annual FCC reports), the agency cannot make up its mind. Of course, regulators want to keep their options open. If they deem the industry “effectively competitive,” that might imply that regulatory interventions were unwarranted. Not that I‘m complaining about the lack of an actual verdict in the Report. Paradoxically, the agency‘s lack of ambition rendered the FCC Report a good deal better. If the Commission had actually produced conclusions, the Report almost surely would have been worse. And despite the FCC‘s best efforts at indecision, two decisive policy implications emerge from the Report.