FCC Drops Vote on Diversity Initiatives

Chairman Martin Had Been Pushing Digital-TV Spectrum-Leasing Proposal as Beneficial to Women, Minorities

The Federal Communications Commission won't be voting on a proposal to lease digital-TV spectrum to minorities and small businesses after all.

After delaying the start of its meeting from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., the commission put out a notice that it had deleted the agenda item on "initiatives designed to increase participation in the broadcasting industry by new entrants and small businesses, including minority- and women-owned businesses."

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has been pushing the DTV-spectrum-leasing proposal as a way to help minorities and others to overcome the high entry costs of station ownership. The proposal would also require cable to carry all those channels under the same must-carry regime as TV stations.

Commission Democrats, joined by minority activists like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, had argued that the proposal was, instead, a form of media "sharecropping" that did not get to the root causes or fixes for underrepresentation of minorities and women in the media.

Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps explained his opposition in a statement. "I'm pleased that we have avoided a premature vote on minority and female ownership," he wrote. "It’s not that this subject doesn’t need our urgent attention.  It does... But while we need to act quickly, we must not act recklessly.  Just a few months ago, we belatedly put out for comment dozens of proposals from our own Diversity Committee and others that had been gathering dust for years at the FCC.  At the time, I expressed concern that the process was becoming eerily reminiscent of former Chairman Michael Powell’s rush to judgment four years ago.... Nothing has happened in the past few months to alleviate my concerns.

"To the contrary, when the Media Bureau denied a request for a brief extension of time to file reply comments from both the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council and the NAB, and then we subsequently received a draft Order addressing these complex issues with only three working days to meet with interested parties, it started to feel more and more like—if you’ll pardon the expression—a whitewash."