McDowell On Putting Political Files Online: What's the Rush

Also expresses concerns about UN getting expanded control of Internet
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FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell says that the
FCC's proposal to make TV stations' political files part of an online public
database managed by the commission is fixing "what appears to be a
nonexistent problem" with "little to no" evidence that the
information in that file is not already available to whoever needs to see it.
He cautioned the FCC not to rush into such a regime.

The
political file proposal is one of several involving the planned migration of TV
station public files to an online database overseen by the FCC.

According
to a copy of the commissioner's speech to the Conservative Political Action
Conference in Washington Friday, McDowell
pointed out that there is speculation the move was prompted by some wanting to
track political spending in the wake of the Citizens United decision. He
pointed out that decision reaffirmed that political speech was core protected
speech. "Given this Constitutional context why would the government want
to have such information loaded onto its website to monitor in real time?"
he asked.

Political
file information includes proprietary and competitively sensitive information
about all political time requests, including ad pricing, said McDowell.

He
also said what he called an over-regulatory path would lead to economic hits on
broadcasters. Compliance costs for putting the files online could average
$120,000-$140,000 a year, he said, diverting funds from newsgathering and local
programming, all arguments broadcasters have made to the commission in opposing
the move.

And
while he conceded there may be some "marginal upside" to putting the
political files online, he made a pitch for not rushing into it. "[W]e
must resist imposing a burdensome requirement to upload all correspondence
regarding political ad buys "immediately," as the FCC has proposed, which
during a busy election season may need updating several times a day," he
said.

He
said publishing price info could have the unintended consequence of encouraging
anticompetitive practices like price collusion, "and would put the
government's thumb on the scale during advertising negotiations."

McDowell
advised his commission colleagues to take a break and think through the
consequences, saying: "After all, what's the rush?"

McDowell
also echoed his concerns about the potential of giving the UN expanded powers
over the Internet. He said dozens of countries are pushing that goal, which he
said would be the reversal of long-standing agreements to keep governments from
regulating "core functions" of the 'net. He said that a
"top-down, centralized, international regulatory overlay" as he fears
could be imposed at an international conference, is antithetical to the
architecture of the Net, and called it "the most important communications
issue affecting freedom."

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