The Making of Energy and Telecommunications Policy

By Georgia A. Persons | Go to book overview
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In the debate on telecommunications policy, Congress's main opponent in the contest for lead policymaker was the FCC. This occurred despite the fact that Congress makes the foundational policy which sets the anchors and parameters for the FCC and other regulatory agencies. Although regulatory agencies may exercise a broad reach in policymaking activities, such initiatives are expected to be in accord with the statutory mandate granted by Congress. Regulatory agencies, in particular, are expected to make what we might call derivative policies. In this study, we observe how a regulatory agency can extend the reach of its original enabling legislation in unexpected and probably unintended ways. In its derivative policymaking role, the FCC adopted and implemented over time a major new policy of competition in telecommunications. The FCC had two major advantages over Congress in this effort. First, the FCC had the advantage of specialized expertise and institutional memory in an area of arcane and technical policy issues. This constituted an essentially insurmountable hurdle for Congress. Second, Congress was faced with the challenge of legislating major changes in an area of settled policy in which underlying definitions, standards, and administrative rulings have cumulative and interlocking meanings which have also been reinforced by judicial rulings. To attempt to supplant an enormous body of settled policy with new policy would have risked economic and legal havoc in a vast and vital national industry. Although the FCC had incentives to be responsive to congressional concerns and pleadings, the FCC also held some critical advantages and thus never abandoned its policy course. Congress's significant power potential was difficult, perhaps even impossible, to realize.

One major observation made in this book about the policymaking process is that it is indeed a protracted one. We observe a seven-year policy cycle in both cases presented from the time at which an issue is raised to the enactment of a definitive policy response. Seven years is a long time. However, one might choose to be impressed by the fact that issues can be retained on the policy agenda for such an extended period of relatively sustained attention. In the case of telecommunications policy, the policy debate was propelled along by FCC rulings, Department of Justice antitrust proceedings, and AT&T's reactions to these. However, over the course of the debate on electric utility ratemaking and low-income energy assistance, we observe Congress as a major participant in and facilitator of an extended process of national energy planning.

Another major observation is that although there is an absence of predictability in the policymaking process, one should not rush to conclude that there is also an absence of order. What we observe is that the process of policymaking is a purposeful one, and from that process, order ensues.


Anderson James E. Public Policymaking: An Introduction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990

Reich Robert, ed. The Power of Public Ideas. Boston: Ballinger Press, 1988.


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The Making of Energy and Telecommunications Policy


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