Copps sticks up for public interest

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Although he's currently the sole Democratic FCC commissioner, Michael Copps
showed that he won't be quietly outvoted by his deregulation-friendly Republican
colleagues.

In a speech to the Federal Communications Bar Association Monday, Copps took
on recent Federal Communications Commission pronouncements and musings by
chairman Michael Powell indicating that the current lineup of commissioners will
be less willing to rely on their public-interest authority to block or add
conditions to media mergers.

'The commission doesn't have the prerogative, but rather an obligation, to
take actions only when they are in the public interest,' Copps said.

He was especially critical of the FCC's approval of the Fox Broadcasting
Co./Chris-Craft Industries Inc. merger, in which the majority agreed that when
media mergers comply with government-imposed ownership restrictions, no
additional public-interest review is warranted.

He also challenged Powell's previous assertion that the FCC's public-interest
authority is so vaguely worded that is an 'empty vessel.'

The term 'public interest' appears 110 times in the communications act, Copps
noted. 'I don't know what 110 times means to you, but to me, it means mandate,'
he told the polite but unenthusiastic crowd, comprised mainly of industry
lawyers.

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