When Politics Serves the Public Interest
"Bad rules and legal vulnerability result from an opaque regulatory process and inadequate data" - Commissioner Copps
"This is the most sweeping and destructive rollback of consumer protection rules in the history of American broadcasting." - Commissioner Adelstein
These are two of the more colorful quotes from the two dissenting commissioners. But the good news is that the music industry's primary concern in the proceedings, the radio sector, has been largely sparred the deregulatory axe. While the FCC relaxed cross-ownership rules between various media sector, it left in place the existing limits on local radio ownership.
Of course, the damage had already been done thanks to the 1996 Telecom Act and subsequent wave of consolidation, which Copps noted should have acted as a red flag in this proceeding. And the fact is that Clear Channel's President and CEO Mark Mays is right in saying that "the FCC chose politics over the public interest." Radio consolidation and its effects have been widely studied and publicized by groups such as Future of Music Coalition, to the point that Clear Channel became a poster child for all the downsides of consolidation, from the press pages to Congressional hearings. Absent this high-profile visibility & concern, those ownerships limits would have gone the way of all the other limits.
Radio faces the same explosion of new media from the Internet, satellite and soon digital radio. Despite this and contrary to its treatment of other media sectors, the FCC strangely finds that, in this unique case of broadcast radio, "the current radio ownership limits continue to be needed to promote competition among local radio stations. By guaranteeing a substantial number of independent radio voices, this rule will also promote viewpoint diversity among local radio owners." Although the FCC has decided to spare broadcast radio for political reasons, it is the only portion of the rules that doesn't sacrifice the public interest.
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