In the Eye of the FCC Storm
Dozier navigates choppy ownership seas
By Bill McConnell -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/7/2004 7:00:00 PM
In any election year, policy is a lightning rod. This year, Erin Dozier is braving the storm. Last week, the Brooklyn native was tapped by FCC Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree to be the agency's media-ownership guru. Two words: Herculean task.
The ambitious lawyer is charged with overseeing the FCC's 2006 review of all its media-ownership rules. In addition, she must resolve the 30-plus angry appeals sparked by the latest contentious review—which jump-started activists' protests nationwide, provoked outrage on Capitol Hill, and landed the FCC in federal appeals court.
Not that Dozier is fazed by the Sturm und Drang. "I enjoy being in the fray," she says. Consider her appearance on C-SPAN. It was Dozier who briefed the five FCC commissioners just before their June 2 split vote to relax broadcast-ownership restrictions. Even criticism from her loved ones didn't bother her. " 'You did a great job on TV,' they told me, 'but we're not sure we agree with you.'"
Media law, however, agrees with her. Dozier began her apprenticeship in media-ownership policy after she graduated from Georgetown Law School in 1998 and joined Washington firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Part of her duties included representing owners in station acquisitions. Her firm, well known for its labor and lobbying practice, was an ideal place for a newly minted attorney to master communications law. Because her team had only five lawyers, new associates had to manage cases. "Our practice had the resources of a huge firm but the culture of a small one," she remembers.
She joined the FCC two years ago, when agency chairman Michael Powell was merging the old Mass Media and Cable Bureaus. Assigned to the industry-analysis division, Dozier helped review the Comcast/AT&T Broadband and News Corp./DirecTV mergers.
"Erin's enthusiasm as well as her intellectual and analytical skills will be a tremendous asset," Ferree said, announcing Dozier's latest appointment. Those skills were tested in the most recent review of broadcast-ownership rules, which led to greatly relaxed limits on duopolies and, for the first time, permitted triopolies in six of the seven largest markets.
The decision was controversial—and feedback comes from a variety of sources, including one of Dozier's law school professors, Angela Campbell, of the school's Institute for Public Representation. During her third year at Georgetown, Dozier worked at the institute, which represents clients who can't afford to hire private attorneys on telecom and other public-policy issues. The institute's mission frequently lands it on the side of activists fighting media consolidation. At present, Campbell is the lead attorney for Prometheus Radio Project, an advocate group for low-power radio, challenging the new FCC rules her former student helped craft.
"We're still friends," Dozier admits, "but sometimes, she looks at me a little cross-eyed."
Will former faux pas come to light? Not according to the FCC's newest media maven. Dozier focused on telephone universal service during her stint at the Georgetown center. Consequently, she insists, no embarrassing memos opposing broadcast-ownership deregulation will be unearthed. In fact, you could consider communications law her calling. "I remember reading a textbook and thinking it read like a novel. The legal questions were the most provocative—they were all being impacted by changing technology. I thought I'd never get bored in this area."
She hasn't. The FCC's duty to set rules based on real market data and sound policy is rewarding, she adds. Dozier believes in real-world politics. "I enjoy looking at bottom-line empirical information to support our decisions."
As for the grief the FCC earns each time it revises rules, she takes solace in seeing the big picture. Complaints come from both sides of the aisle, from activists who think the commission is too cavalier and media companies claiming the FCC didn't go far enough.
"The fact that we're somewhere in the middle lends itself to the idea we balanced things correctly." She learns fast.
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