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FCC Chairman Scapegoats Congress
By Eric de Fontenay (Founder & Publisher)
(more articles from this author)
2003-04-17
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The issue of media consolidation in general, and the FCC current biennial review of media ownership rules specifically, has been thoroughly vetted in this publication. Whatever ones position on the subject, one thing is clear: any major change from the present rules are likely to have a major impact on the media industry, from creators to distributors, as well as on the public policy objectives of diversity and choice the FCC is bound enforce. The stakes are so critical that several senators from both sides of the aisle have written FCC Chairman Michael Powell requesting more time for comments from interested parties.

To the Chairman's credit, this proceeding has attracted a record number of comments - 18,000 comments of which over 17,000 were from individual Americans - as well as led to several public hearings. In contrast to the lobbyfest in Congress that resulted in the 1996 Telecom Act, this was one of the more open proceedings on the issue.

Having said that, Chairman Michael Powell's hiding behind process & rules to avoid further consideration on the subject is frankly disingenuous. While I acknowledged that "the Commission is legally obligated to complete this proceeding in the timeframe established by Congress," the point is somewhat irrelevant since, as noted by Mr. Powell, "the Commission already is tardy in satisfying its responsibilities, given that the current review should have been finished by the close of 2002." Granted, the FCC does not have a stellar record in meeting Congressional timetables. Congress had even felt it necessary during the first biennial review to pass legislation limiting the process to 6 months due to protracted delays. And clearly, if the review proceeding is delayed any further, it is likely to overlap with the 2004 review.

The concerns expressed by a broad set of senators should, though, be the Chairman's cue that "getting it right is more important than just getting it done," even if that means engaging in a further notice and comment period.

When Congress mandated the FCC biennial media ownership reviews in the 1996 Telecom Act, the media sector was much simpler: new platforms such as the World Wide Web and satellite radio had yet to emerge while the media ownership structure of several sectors such as broadcast radio have changed dramatically. While Congress correctly anticipated significant and on-going changes in the media landscape by mandating the biennial reviews, it underestimated the scope such changes would have as well as the efforts and time required to fully understand their repercussions. Perhaps Congress should consider extraordinary legislation to help Mr. Powell conduct the full and complete review it intended rather than make excuses.

Related News from Mi2N:
» Chairman Michael K. Powell Responds To Members Of Congress Regarding Upcoming Biennial Review Of Media Ownership


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