Free Press Critical of FCC's Broadband Field Hearings

Media activist group says events poorly publicized, scheduled during workday
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Media activist group Free Press says that the open and transparent FCC that Chairman Julius Genachowski has promoted has been less than either when it comes to its broadband field hearings.

"The FCC has made a rhetorical commitment to involving the public in shaping the national broadband plan. But the public can't participate if they don't know these events are happening," said Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver in an e-mailed statement. "And they won't show up if they're not given an opportunity to speak directly to policymakers. If the FCC is taking the trouble to schedule a trip across the country and line up no less than 13 panelists, they should be able to tell the public it's happening a few weeks -- not a few days -- ahead of time."

Silver was responding to an FCC broadband hearing in San Diego Thursday co-hosted by Genachowksi and Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker.

But more broadly, it cited the four FCC broadband hearings to date, saying that locations and schedules have only been made available a few days beforehand, and all during the workday, when it is tougher for some working folks to attend.

The group is also critical of the lack of opportunity for public comment, pointing out that audience members have only been able to submit questions via note cards.

Free Press raised similar complaints about media ownership field hearings under former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

"The FCC's new leadership has pledged to change business as usual and to pursue openness and transparency," said Silver. "But actions speak louder than words. We've criticized the FCC in the past for failing to involve the public in crucial decisions and for scheduling last-minute hearings to create the appearance of public participation. The commission's new leadership should expect to be held to the same or an even higher standard."

An FCC spokesperson was reviewing the Free Press release at press time.

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