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FCC’s ‘Necessary’ Standard of Review

Mar 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the most deregulatory of them all?
When it comes to the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership rules, it’s GOP Commissioner Kevin Martin’s reflection that appears, and he’s put his claim to the fame in writing.
“The issue is whether, in light of competition, the rule is `necessary,”’ Mr. Martin said, in an agency legal brief explaining why he decided to dissent from a recent decision by the FCC majority announcing the standard it will use to determine whether to ax or relax regulations limiting how many media properties a single company can own.
The agency’s interpretation of its standard for regulatory review is critical because the higher it sets the bar, the harder it will be for the FCC to legally justify keeping the regulations.
It’s an issue because the Telecommunications Act of 1996 directed the FCC to review its owership rules every two years, striking down or modifying ones that aren’t “necessary in the public interest” in the face of “meaningful economic competition.”
In a recent vote, the FCC majority decided to adopt a standard that interprets “necessary” to mean “useful,” “meaningful” or “appropriate.”
Mr. Martin said the proper measure for review is whether the rule is “absolutely required,” “indispensable” or “essential.”
“On this issue, he [Mr. Martin] is the most deregulatory,” said one longtime agency observer.
Mr. Martin’s druthers notwithstanding, it is the majority’s standard that will now be used to review the ownership regulations.
But industry attorneys said the dispute is important because it makes clear that there is a three-vote majority for at least some deregulation of the ownership at the FCC, including Mr. Martin and his two GOP colleagues-Chairman Michael Powell and Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy.
“The significance is that the three of them can probably agree on some degree of deregulation,” an industry attorney said.