FCC’s McDowell Assesses on Media Ownership Strategy

Aug 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

New Federal Communications Commissioner Robert M. McDowell signaled that the agency may roll out suggested changes to media ownership piece by piece, potentially avoiding snags that let an appeals court strike down a similar proposal in 2003.

“It will be broken up into smaller pieces than last time,” said Mr. McDowell, a former telephone company lobbyist who has been on the commission 69 days.

Former FCC Commissioner Michael Powell’s attempt to loosen media ownership rules was rebuffed by a federal appeals court that found the agency had failed to adequately justify its proposed changes and hold public hearings on them. Current FCC chief Kevin Martin also favors letting media companies own more outlets in a single market, a change that some public interest groups fear will lead to further consolidation and less diverse offerings.

Shortly after making the comments during his first news conference with reporters, Mr. McDowell qualified his remarks, saying that while he supports tackling media ownership reform in chunks, no action had been taken yet to indicate that was how the FCC would proceed.

Mr. McDowell called omnibus media ownership reform “one big kidney stone to pass.”

In his first press conference, Mr. McDowell stated his opposition to requiring cable companies to carry broadcast stations’ digital signals. He also confirmed that he was responsible for the agency having to pull that issue from a meeting agenda earlier this year, a delay that spurred criticism of Mr. Martin’s ability to build consensus among the agency’s top decision makers.

“I do not believe that the statutes give authority [to the commission] to impose a multicast requirement,” he said.

Mr. McDowell also revealed more about his belief that regulators should be careful not to interfere with market forces. He said several times that he believes the FCC’s role is to promote freedom, “clear out the underbrush” and let competition flourish.

He said it was premature for the FCC to take action on so-called net neutrality, which would prevent Internet access providers from charging some clients more for faster connections. The agency should take its cues from the public on that issue and proposals to require channel-by-channel pricing plans for cable television, he said.