Last Tuesday, at the annual dinner honoring the FCC Chair put on by the Federal Communications Bar Association, a guest looked at the 1500 or so assembled lawyers and lobbyists and commented: "This room is what is wrong with Washington."
He was right. The FCBA has over 3000 members. Their function, mostly, is to write comments and talk to each other endlessly about the correct interpretations of or additions to a body of detailed laws, regulations, and judicial decisions.
The goal is rarely to make the system work efficiently; it is to skew the game toward the benefit of their clients. Above all, it is to freeze the system if any change might occur to the disadvantage of the client. Since everything is to someone's disadvantage, it is rare for things to happen. And if the things that get through the mesh are good things, that is happenstance rather than the design of the system.
The government is the prime culprit here. Congress and the FCC assume that there is some abstract "public good" that can be discerned if only they get one more round of legal comments. When the Commission embraces the free market, it does so only as one tool of central planning -- it thinks the market will produce whatever result is wanted, but should be over-ruled if it goes in another direction, as markets tend to do.
The best thing the FCC did was to resist early pressures to regulate the Internet, which let it grow. But the pressures to meddle are relentless, and most of them were in the room last Tuesday.