Kennard’s TIN star
If you love spin doctors, P.R. flacks and marketing guys who talk about “the vision thing,” the FCC “hears” you. In what might be a new effort to inform the public, the commission released a “news” item titled “Press Statement of Chairman William E. Kennard Regarding April 2, 1998, Commission Meeting.”
These 2.2 pages of regulatory hand holding are a curious pronouncement from the crowned head of the agency. That it was a “press statement” made it all the more curious. I mean, did Bill Kennard really expect this document to make the Associated Press wire? Given its heading, I thought it might be worth a read.
In the first two “graphs” (We news guys say “graphs” instead of “paragraphs.”), the Chairman tells us that the April 2 meeting was in keeping with his “deregulatory thrust.” Great! Action verbs! All good press releases have action verbs in the copy to make an otherwise adenoidally droning topic sound like a Disney vacation.
Next, Kennard tells us that the agency is streamlining and deregulating via electronic filing. I note that the topic, electronic filing, does not appear until the fourth graph. In the parlance of the biz, Chairman Kennard’s press agent has “buried the lead.” Having read the Notice of Proposed Rule Making regarding the Universal Licensing System, one might suggest that the entire idea be buried until the agency can handle some of the daunting questions surrounding its proposed forced use.
According to the NPRM, the FCC wishes to impose, mandate and otherwise force each and every licensee to employ the Internet, a computer, a modem, a scanner, telephone service, and sophisticated software for the purpose of filing for a “base and five.” That includes applications filed either by AT&T Wireless or by Chucky’s Towing Service. All of us are supposed to be ready to join this electronic revolution on Jan. 1, 1999.
A rough estimate of the cost of obtaining the electronic gear to handle the task is about $3,500. If you want to print anything out, add another $500. If you want to check the status of your application, add another $2.30 per minute for the FCC’s on-line status service. Stated another way, the FCC just proposed to add a market entry fee of about $5,000 (or about the price of two upfront payments for any FCC auction).
The FCC licensing records show that there are more than 3 million licensees across the country. Assuming that half of the licensees have joined the “cyber age,” the other half will create some wonderful demand for personal computer products and telephone service, if the FCC’s digital filing becomes law. That’s about $6 billion for the likes of IBM, Dell, Digital and-let’s not forget-Mr. Gates. So, for a low discount price equal to the cost of a handful of stealth bombers, we, the public, can join together to rescue FCC personnel from the heartbreak of paper cuts.
The TIN-plated solution
Although the FCC’s recent collection of taxpayer identification numbers (TIN) has been an exercise in silliness, with licensees asked to produce the information repeatedly for each station, call sign and deduction on their Schedule C, further use of those numbers may get even sillier. The agency proposes that entering a TIN number be considered equivalent to writing a signature. Huh? Try signing your mortgage with your social security number.
I can’t help fantasizing about an FCC hearing involving the authenticity of documents with TIN signatures:
(Prosecutor) “So, you admit that your TIN number is 440-93-4559?! And, therefore, you filed this request for cancellation of your 12 cellular licenses because (and I quote) ‘this co-location siting issue is just too confusing.’ Isn’t that right, Mr. McCaw?!”
The FCC tells us that TIN numbers will remain a state secret and that only a few employees within the agency will have the ability to download the precious numbers. One doesn’t have to think about spy-and-tell types like Aldrich Ames to get nervous. But that’s not the biggest problem.
The Commission would also require electronic filing of comments to rulemakings. The filing of comments is a right of all citizens of the United States, protected by law. Participation in administrative rulemakings is a right of all persons who believe that the agency would be served by their opinion. Yet, the FCC would limit the number of citizens who can participate in governing the telecommunications market, including only those people with thousands of dollars of computer hardware and the ability to use it.
Welcome to technocracy. Only the technically adept with sufficient disposable income to purchase computer hardware and software are deemed to have an opinion worth offering to the FCC. Can you imagine the outcry if the federal government stated that only persons voting electronically can participate in the next presidential election? The agency’s position amounts to a poll tax, paid to the computer manufacturers and the longline carriers.
It is wrong.
Add to that travesty the Commission’s idea that petitions, rule waiver requests, applications, affidavits, replies and the entire panoply of pleadings would also require a digitized voter, and the harmful effect on equal access to government becomes increasingly apparent. Towns like Guthrie, IN; Poplar Creek, MS; Winston, MT; Burnsville, NC; Woodland, ND; Jennersville, PA; and Crow, TX, are each getting legislated out of the political process. These towns and thousands like them have populations of less than 100 people. It is unlikely that the town budget can sustain a $5,000-ticket item just to file comments with the FCC.
The commission’s proposal to force John Q. Public to belly up to the computer if he’s got something to say will also have a devastating effect on amateur radio operator’s rights. Picture telling the kid with his first crystal set that he also has to save up his paper route money to buy a high-end computer if he wants to protect his right to shortwave operation.
The problem is clear. The FCC wants to make mandatory that which should be optional. If you want to file comments, applications and other documents electronically, the agency might find a way to make that possible. However, the filing of documents before a federal agency should not require an investment equivalent to buying a secondhand Chevy.
If Chairman Kennard had been a bit more forthright in his press statement, it might have read:
“Today we are streamlining our processes by changing the definition of the word “public” in all future regulatory matters. Henceforth, the word ‘public’ will be defined as ‘ all person, companies and entities possessing the following:
(i) a personal computing device with at least a 486 processor, 16 megabytes of RAM and 1 gigabyte of hard drive space. (ii) a modem with 33,600 baud rate capacity. (iii) one 600 3 600 dpi scanner. (iv) an Internet service provider. (v) 200 hours of computer training. (vi) a registered TIN number.”
Now that’s news!