The traditional U.S. spectrum allocation system has long been criticized – even by regulators – as overly rigid. To unleash innovative wireless technologies, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has gradually loosened government restrictions on airwave use. But the path to liberalization leads in alternative directions. One policy reform paradigm, championed by leading economists such as Ronald Coase, allows markets to allocate exclusively assigned spectrum use rights. A rival approach, advanced by advocates of an “open spectrum” such as Lawrence Lessig, favors allocating greater bandwidth for unlicensed use. In such bands, there is free entry by wireless users, provided they use regulator-approved devices that comply with protocols (including power limits) established by the government.
The pervasive influence of administrative governance is a defining feature of modern American life. Indeed, it is hard to find an aspect of daily life that is not regulated by one federal agency or another: the Department of Labor enforces labor laws; the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) manages air and water quality; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) regulates electricity; the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) monitors the nation’s food supply and ensures the safety of its medicine; the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (“the Fed”) supervises banking institutions; the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) regulates consumer products; and the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) oversees radio, television, satellite, and cable communications. With so many agencies minding America, one might ask: who is minding America’s agencies?
Every year the Army Corps of Engineers receives over 74,500 applications for permits under section 404(a) of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), the provision regulating the discharge of fill or dredged material into the nation’s waters. Consequently, when the Supreme Court granted certiorari for Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“SWANCC”) – a case potentially affecting the status of millions of acres of American wetlands – property owners, developers, and environmentalists alike were wise to stand up and take notice.
The SWANCC case involved a Chicago-area consortium of municipalities that sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) for denying them a permit to develop a landfill on an abandoned mining site because the Corps had determined the land in question was inhabited by migratory birds. The central issue presented in SWANCC was whether this “Migratory Bird Rule” – a regulation promulgated in 1986 giving the Corps authority over wetlands populated by migrating birds – was a proper exercise of jurisdiction under the CWA. The municipalities argued that the rule exceeded the Corps’ authority because the CWA was meant to only regulate waters that are navigable or that adjoin navigable waterways. On the other hand, the Corps argued that its jurisdiction is not limited by traditional notions of navigability; rather it has authority over the nation’s waters to the fullest extent of the Commerce Clause.
The dispute between the United States and the European Union (“EU”) regarding the EU ban on meat imports treated with hormones raises the question: How should regulators respond to public fears that are disproportionate to the risks as evaluated by experts in risk assessment? If regulators cannot eliminate public fears through education, then there is some social benefit from regulations that reduce the feared risks and thereby reduce public anxiety and distortions in behavior flowing from that anxiety. These considerations imply that we cannot simply ignore public fears that technocrats would deem “irrational.” On the other hand, there is the danger that special interests may seek to generate consumer anxiety and lobby for regulations that serve their interests. I explore an approach that takes public fears seriously as social costs but also treats them as endogenous variables. I use this framework to evaluate risk regulations in terms of economic efficiency and suggest that the danger of inefficient regulation is most acute when domestic industries promote or sustain fears regarding imported products. From this perspective, the World Trade Organization ruling against the EU in the hormones dispute, based on the risk assessment requirements in the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, may represent a reasonable approach to guarding against the danger of regulatory protectionism, understood broadly to describe inefficient regulations that the importing country would not have adopted but for the foreign nationality of the producers disadvantaged and the domestic nationality of the producers favored by those regulations.
This Article offers a new solution to the problem of interconnection among telecom networks. According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC”) proposal, interconnection between local exchange carriers (“LECs”) and long-distance carriers would be mandatory, and all charges demanded by LECs for outgoing and incoming long-distance calls would be regulated down to zero. In contrast, this Article proposes simple regulatory changes that would foster the deregulation of interconnection between long-distance carriers and LECs. Such regulatory changes would enable several market forces, revealed by the Article and neglected by the FCC and the previous literature, to keep LECs’ charges for interconnection from rising above competitive levels and encourage carriers to interconnect.