New Questions for Senate Commerce Committee Oversight Hearings

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Add "digital-age public interest obligations" to the list of topics the FCC commissioners will likely be asked to talk about during the Senate Commerce Committee's oversight hearing on Thursday, February 1.

Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, wrote to committee members Wednesday asking them to make sure and ask the commissioners why, after six years of study, the FCC has yet to define the public interest obligations of digital broadcasters.

Actually, two of the five commissioners who will be grilled--Democrats Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps--have asked the same question.

McGehee pointed out that two DTV public interest-related items have been kicking around the FCC without resolution for five and six years, respectively. She also says that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin made a "promising start" when he first came in as chairman by naming 20 new members to a consumer advisory commission, but that the FCC has not acted on the DTV public interest recommendations of that advisory group. This includes the recommendation that the FCC outline basic and meaningful public interest obligations and disclosure rules for digital television by May 2006.

Calling the FCC's failure to establish "bright lines" for DTV obligations "inexcusable" McGehee says, "I sincerely hope that you will stress to the Commissioners at tomorrow’s hearing their vital role in this process and remind them that the airwaves they use to broadcast are owned by the public and that the absence of digital public interest obligations after six years is unacceptable."
"The chairman looks forward to answering any questions the Senators may have tomorrow," said an FCC spokesman.
McGehee also plans to send a similar letter to the House Commerce and Telecommunications Subcommittee leadership now that it has scheduled its own meeting for Feb. 15.