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Powell Promotes Localism

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has announced the formation of a task force to look into broadcasters' obligations to serve local communities.

The move, announced in a Washington D.C. press conference this week was seen as an effort to bolster support for the commission's 3-2 vote to increase the media ownership cap from 35 percent to 45 percent.

The commission's June action ignited a firestorm of protests from politicians and consumer advocacy groups. Critics have asked Powell to postpone enforcement of the rules, which take effect Sept. 4. Congress is expected to overturn the commission's vote when it returns from summer recess.

Powell remained defiant, however, attempting to draw distinctions between media ownership and localism. "It is important to understand that ownership rules have always been, at best, imprecise tools for achieving policy goals like localism," the chairman said this week. "That is why the FCC has historically sought more direct ways of promoting localism in broadcasting."

Powell's critics were unmoved.

"This proposal is a day late and a dollar short," said FCC commissioner Michael Copps. "It highlights the failures of the recent decision to dismantle ownership protections. To say that protecting localism was not germane to that decision boggles the mind. I don't believe this diversionary tactic will divert either the American people or their representatives in Congress."

The president of the Consumer Federation of America called the proposal an "insult" to critics of media consolidation and predicted that Congress will overturn the commission's vote.

"We are certain that the Chairman's actions will not stop the political firestorm that the FCC rules have created," said Mark Cooper.

The "Localism Task Force" will be lead by FCC Deputy General Counsel Michele Elison and Deputy Chief of the Media Bureau, Robert Ratcliffe, who will serve as co-chairs. Commission staff will serve a Notice of Inquiry in September seeking comment on a wide range of FCC rules and procedures aimed at promoting localism. The inquiry, which will run concurrently with the work of the task force, will address issues including license renewal and network-affiliate rules. The task force, which will hold a series of public meetings on localism around the country, is expected make its final recommendations to commissioners within the next 12 months.