Watchdogs asking FCC for extension

Oct 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Consumer group representatives last week urged the Federal Communications Commission to slam the brakes on deregulation-at least long enough to let them respond to voluminous agency studies making a case for further relaxation of the agency’s media ownership rules.
“This is a litmus test for [FCC Chairman] Michael Powell,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “Does he really believe in free speech and public debate or is he just carrying the water of the media lobby?”
At issue for consumer group representatives is a massive FCC rule-making under which the agency is proposing to relax or ax a variety of regulations that restrict how many media properties a single company can own.
Early in October the FCC released a series of studies suggesting that previous rollbacks of the agency ownership restrictions have had little ill impact on consumers. The studies are important because they’re supposed to serve as the basis for any agency moves to loosen the regulations.
When it released the studies the FCC also said all public comment would be due Dec. 2.
Watchdog groups want the agency to give them at least another three months to assess the agency’s assertions and marshal opposition.
“The current 90-day comment and reply period simply will not suffice,” said Gene Kimmelman, director of the Washington office of Consumers Union, in a letter to the FCC’s Mr. Powell.
“Without such an extension industry groups that have huge resources will be able to dominate the public comment period,” added a coalition of other groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America and the Writers Guild of America-East.
The watchdog groups also asked the agency to stop the shot clock on the comments deadline until after the agency releases the underlying data the FCC studies were based on.
Also last week, a coalition of groups led by the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists urged the FCC to hold field hearings to consider the public’s view before providing additional deregulation.
“Ownership consolidation has severely reduced diversity of voices in the marketplace, marginalized the interests of local communities and restricted access to distribution outlets for creative talent,” said Greg Hessinger, AFTRA executive director.
An FCC spokeswoman said the requests were under review.