Echoing the sentiments of the FCC's two Democrats, Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan has asked FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to make sure the commission completes its localism proceedings--including holding more meetings--and issues a public report before rewriting media ownership rules. He was joined by a handful of Democratic and Republican colleagues on the Senate Commerce Committee.
The localism proceeding was opened by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell in 2003.
Martin said after the media ownership review was launched on June 21 that he would incorporate the localism proceeding "fully" into the record of the ownership proceeding.
But the legislators are worried that means only the comments submitted so far rather than continuing on with the separate proceeding to conclusion and a report.
"Folding the comments or any part of the inquiry into the media ownership proceeding simply is not sufficient to thoroughly address the important issues that need to be addressed on localism," they argued. That course of action, they said, "would cause us grave concern."
They also say the FCC has held only two of a planned six hearings related to the localism proceeding and they want it to complete those as well. The FCC is also is planning five more regional media ownership hearings--the next in Nashville on December 11--that could deal with similar issues.
The FCC is taking a second crack at deregulatory rule changes it tried to implement in 2003 under Powell. They would allow owners of stations in smaller markets to own multiple outlets in those markets, and would permit the co-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers.
Those were challenged and remanded by a federal appeals court for better justification. It is also looking at all its rules per a congressionally-mandated quadrennial review.
Also signing the letter were Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer (CA), Maria Cantwell (WA), John Kerry (MA), Frank Lautenberg (NJ), , Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine and Trent Lott of Mississippi.
"We're reviewing [the letter] and will be replying," said an FCC spokesman.