Political favoritism and corporate welfare
The above title is a phrase in a well-written and easily understandable piece from The New Yorker about broadcast spectrum and the public interest [via Dave Farber's IP list]:
Instead of auctioning off the digital spectrum..., or simply asking broadcasters to pay for it..., Congress offered it to them free. It was, as Reed Hundt, who was the F.C.C. chairman, said at the time, "the largest single grant of public property to... the private sector in this century." Senator John McCain was a little more blunt. He called it "one of the great rip-offs in American history...."
Local TV stations have consistently been among the most lucrative businesses in the country, but they have never been asked to pay for their use of the public airwaves. In a sense, broadcasters are the modern equivalent of the railroads. In the nineteenth century, the railroads were given tens of millions of acres of land (adding up, eventually, to roughly ten per cent of the country); now broadcasters have been given billions of dollars' worth of electromagnetic real estate.
The government subsidized the railroads because it believed that Americas economy needed a modern transportation system. It has subsidized TV stations because it wanted the media to serve the public interest. Broadcasters get their licenses free, and, in exchange, theyre supposed to keep the citizenry informed. Commendable as this mandate may seem, it has very little to do with the business of broadcast television....
If people would rather watch an episode of "Survivor" than a speech by Al Gore, the network will air "Survivor." This is a sound business decision. But taxpayers shouldn't be footing the bill for it....
We may not be willing to pay for all Americans to have health insurance, but were content to pay for them to watch "Scrubs...."
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