Legislators join NAB to oppose public service rules

April 21, 2008

It has been a very long time coming, but the FCC seems ready to finally define public service obligations for digital broadcasters. Last week, 120 legislators asked the commission to back off.

The legislators in Congress — both Republicans and Democrats — backed the NAB in asking FCC chairman Kevin Martin not to impose any localism mandates on broadcasters.

The FCC initiative, which has dragged on since former vice president Al Gore’s commission on public service during the Clinton administration, is now part of the commission’s media ownership rules loosening the newspaper and broadcast TV cross-ownership ban. In return for loosening the rules, the FCC wants to increase broadcasters’ obligations to serve their local communities.

A copy of the letter, released by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, charged the commission is considering a “radical reregulation“of broadcasting. Among the proposals are to create community advisory boards, require broadcasters to report on programming in a variety of categories, locate broadcast studios in their community of license, and have stations staffed at all times.

However, the members of Congress said that the measures would add unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and burden broadcasters with requirements not imposed on cable, satellite, or the Internet. They added the rules might violate the U.S. Constitution, voicing agreement with concerns expressed by Republican FCC member Robert McDowell.

Martin was told that while the FCC’s attempts to boost localism are good, their methods are wrong. “Any approach to regulate media that violates constitutional principles or unnecessarily burdens the industry when other, less burdensome methods are available should be discarded,” the members of Congress wrote.

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