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FCC Agrees to Complete Localism Study

Jan 8, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J. Martin is extending an olive branch that could soothe some Congressional feathers but delay any FCC ownership rules changes: A long overdue study about the impact of local media ownership will now get completed before any new rules will be offered.

Mr. Martin unveiled the promise in a letter to Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., which Mr. Dorgan released today. The localism study was initiated by former FCC chairman Michael J. Powell in 2003 but never finished.

“The commission will not conclude its review of the media ownership rules until it has completed the localism inquiry and issued its localism report,” Mr. Martin wrote.

Senators and some consumer groups had contended that the issues being examined- whether locally owned TV and radio stations provided better service than stations owned by outsiders-were “critical” to evaluating any media ownership changes the FCC might propose.

In a letter to Mr. Martin on Dec. 4, from Sen. Dorgan and signed by fellow Senate Commerce Committee members Trent Lott, R-Miss.; Olympia Snowe, R-Maine; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; John Kerry, D-Mass.; Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the senators urged that the study be completed and a report issued before the FCC took any ownership action.

They noted that six hearings had been promised, but only four held and that the FCC had never delivered on a promise to “issue recommendations regarding broadcasters’ responsibilities to serve their local communities” and they warned Mr. Powell about taking comments gathered and just inserting them into the ownership proceedings.

“We understand that you intend to gather comments that were submitted and incorporate them into the media ownership inquiry while going no further with the localism proceeding. This potential course of action would cause us grave concern,” wrote the senators. “The FCC must first establish that there are sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that broadcasters are serving their local community before considering any changes.”

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee were critical of the FCC’s push for ownership changes under Mr. Powell and their criticism was renewed last year when Sen. Boxer unveiled an unpublished FCC study questioning the impact of losing local ownership.

Mr. Martin’s letter was released as new Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, announced that the committee would look at FCC issues in upcoming weeks. A hearing entitled “Assessing the Communications Marketplace: A View from the FCC” has been set for Feb. 1.