Broadcasters' free ride to Bonanzaville

Proponents of deregulation of broadcasting consistently contrast the lack of First Amendment rights for broadcasting with the First Amendment protection of newspapers. Why one and not the other, they demand?

Here's why: Broadcasters are given exclusive licenses to broadcast with no usage fee involved. In many cases it is a free ticket to Bonanzaville. No entrepreneur can start a radio or TV station without FCC approval. Any entrepreneur willing to risk his capital can start a newspaper without benefit of federal licensing.

The question of good business judgment and comparative costs does not enter into consideration at all.

One obvious partial solution is seldom discussed by broadcasting lobbyists: Inaugurate a fair spectrum usage fee for broadcasters which would have them pay for the right to use the publicly owned broadcast spectrums. Then there would be no question of public-service responsibility in return for free usage.

Just as is the case with newspapers - public service, fairness, equal time - all could be left to the discretion of the broadcasters who at least would be paying their own way as newspapers do. The other alternative - throwing the airwaves open to any entrepreneur who wants to use them - would be the ideal way but unfortunately would probably result in electronic chaos if unregulated.

Whether or not the public would be served properly by any of these alternative arrangements is another matter. But, isn't it time for broadcasters to stop raising the issue of First Amendment rights as long as they are not willing to pay for the exclusive access to the public which they are currently given as a gift?

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