The NYT had a piece discussing Sinclair Broadcasting's plans for expansion and the apparent green light coming from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). As the piece explains, the FCC is now headed by Ajit V. Pai. Mr. Pai apparently met with David D. Smith, the chairman of Sinclair, just before he became chair. Shortly thereafter, the FCC weakened a rule that may have slowed Sinclair's plans for expansion.

At one point the piece describes Mr. Pai as "an enthusiastic purveyor of free-market philosophy."

This is not at all clear from the description of his views in the piece. In a true free market, the government would not be allocating air waves. The assignment of frequencies to specific companies by the government, with the threat of arrest for interfering, is not a free market. This is government intervention.

It is possible to argue that this government intervention is necessary to make the airwaves usable (if dozens of people tried to broadcast on the same frequency, no one would be able to hear or see anything), but people who support the assignment of frequencies are not in favor of a free market. Even if we accept the need to assign frequencies, there are an infinite number of ways this can be done.

A frequency can be parceled out by the hour, with individuals or companies only getting claims to short periods. To broadcast a longer show or movie it would then be necessary to buy up enough slots from others to allow for the necessary time. The slots can also be auctioned off rather than given away for free to private companies. This way, the government, rather than private companies, would benefit from the monopolization of the airwaves.

It is understandable that owners of television and radio stations would like to pretend that they support the free market when they want the government to just turn over exclusive use of frequencies, with no questions asked, but this is not true.

Note: Thanks to Keane Bhatt for calling this to my attention.