FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wants his colleagues to go outside the Washington Beltway to hear what average Americans think about media consolidation. He's getting his wish, but only by a hundred miles.
In February, specific day to be arranged later, the five FCC commissioners will drive about an hour-and-a-half outside of the nation's capital to Richmond, Va., to hold a field hearing on proposed changes to media-ownership limits. The changes are widely expected to let the largest companies control a greater share of the country's broadcast stations and cable systems.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell's decision to hold the hearing is a victory of sorts for Copps, but not exactly what he had in mind. Copps, one of the commission's two Democrats, last month threatened to hold a series of field hearings on his own if Powell wouldn't commence them. Powell resisted, but other Republican commissioners were amenable to the idea.
Powell said severe budget constraints and a spring deadline for bringing proposals to a vote prevent additional hearings or a location more distant from Washington.
Under review are proposals that could increase the cap on TV station owners' household reach, eliminate restrictions on local crossownership of TV stations with radio stations and newspapers, and relax limits on ownership of two TV stations in a market.
Powell noted that the commission held a hearing on media ownership in October 2001 and folks around the country have ample opportunity to weigh in on the issue via written comments due Jan. 3.
In a formal statement Copps called the Richmond hearing "a good step forward." Nevertheless, "I remain convinced we need to have other hearings in diverse venues to flesh out the record. We have to find a way to hear from more folks outside the Capital Beltway. I am looking for that way, and I am determined to find it."
Copps had repeatedly called on the FCC to hold ownership hearings, but Chairman Powell resisted so that he could focus on the economic justification needed to satisfy judicial concerns about ownership restrictions. Powell-appointed Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree dismissed the need for new hearings in October.