Listening to ‘lone’ voices
Dear Editor: In your online column of Sept. 17, “A fine line exists between consensus and repression,” you stated that “… those who opposed the [800 MHz rebanding] plan were vilified. We were among them. … We argued that there was no way to know whether $850 million would be enough.”
I’m not sure who you believe vilified you, but it certainly didn’t come from this corner. If you recall, at the time I told you that it was a no brainer to have the consensus parties agree to this limitation as part of the consensus plan, because I (and others) knew that the FCC would never accept it. I assured you that the final plan wouldn’t have a cap, and it didn’t.
One of the points of your column was that sometimes the lone voice in the wilderness is ignored casually. Unfortunately, this one example was a bad one. Rather, the original FCC decision on rebanding was the subject of literally hundreds of sets of comments at the commission, and lobbying by folks on all sides. In fact, at the end of the day, the ultimate decision reflected huge changes to the original plan that, I contend, added millions of dollars of unnecessary administrative costs to the program, money better spent on new equipment for public-safety licensees. So, you are incorrect that your voice was lone and incorrect that the FCC didn’t consider various positions.
I don’t mean to suggest that Nextel is blameless in what has happened — there’s plenty of blame to go around — but I know well that the commission considered a wide variety of input, and in some cases that consideration has caused significant problems. In fact, it can be documented easily that the FCC’s decision to listen to large carrier arguments and tie rebanding to payments to the U.S. Treasury — which will not happen because rebanding costs have exceeded the estimated value of the 1.9 GHz spectrum which Nextel received — has added a large amount of costs and delays to the process. So, not all “minority opinions” turn out to be great things.
Nevertheless, your point was that not all minority opinions should be readily dismissed. I agree, and from what I’ve seen at the FCC over 25 years, sane minority opinions are rarely dismissed without some level of consideration. However, such consideration doesn’t always happen in public view, and particularly not with the involvement of the press. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the FCC always makes the right decisions, but it is rare that it can be said that they didn’t consider the choices. Sometimes, though, the biggest problem is making a staffer, who has never been in business, understand the business consequences of decisions. The educational process in this type of lobbying is crucial to good decision-making.
Fortunately, it appears that the new chairman wants to make the process more open, and we can all applaud that goal. Whether the effort will be worthwhile remains to be seen, but initially it appears that we will have a greater opportunity to see in action the consideration of minority opinions.
The other problem which you brought up was the “vilification” of dissenting views. It can certainly be said that over the past 10 years or so this vilification has reached disturbing levels in areas other than just telecommunications. We all benefit from the respectful exchange of views and ideas, and I hope that we can soon see our way clear to healthy discourse in many areas of our decision-making progress.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.
Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at [email protected].