US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created a new department to incorporate economic analysis more deeply into its policy making.
The move could significantly impact the commission’s decisions on wireless and spectrum issues, among others. In particular, the newly created Office of Economics and Analytics will oversee design and implementation of all spectrum auctions and will conduct a cost-benefit analysis for all policies estimated to have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more.
It will also be tasked with designing and administering “significant, economically-relevant data collections,” recommending budget levels and priorities for economic and data analysis programmes, and conducting long-term research on how to improve commission policies.
US mobile operators are subject to various data reporting requirements in order to, for instance, help the FCC monitor broadband deployments.
Four segments within the office will handle these activities, including the divisions of Economic Analysis, Industry Analysis, Auctions and Data.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the creation of the new branch will ensure economists have a seat at the policy-making table and foster a “culture of inquiry” which prizes both short-and long-term analysis.
Fears of bias
However, commissioner Mignon Clyburn claimed some of the FCC’s recent major decisions, such as the repeal of net neutrality, were devoid of the balanced cost-benefit analysis the office will purportedly be responsible for producing. She accused the “current administration” of “putting in place a mechanism to justify its own interests while disregarding any analysis that runs counter to their views”.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel urged the office to put in place a peer review process, calling it “unacceptable that so much of the economic work of this agency during the past year was not subject” to such scrutiny. Rosenworcel also advocated for transparency requirements in the economics office to reveal potential conflicts of interest.
“We need to be honest about how much of the economic data presented to the FCC is advocacy. We want to avoid the risk of relying on numbers masquerading as fact when they add up to champion a desired outcome.”