Senate Commerce Committee Tees Up FCC-Blocking Bill

Resolution of Disapproval Set for April 24 Vote

The Senate Commerce Committee will take up a Federal Communications Commission-blocking bill this month.

The committee said Thursday that it would take up the resolution April 24. It had planned to do so April 2 but postponed it.

The "resolution of disapproval" -- an unusual congressional step that invalidates a decision by a regulatory agency like the FCC -- was introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) after the commission voted Dec. 18 to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin billed it as a compromise with consolidation opponents -- like Dorgan -- since it did not lift the ban entirely and was less deregulatory than a 2003 FCC effort to change the rules.

But Dorgan, teamed up with then-Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), disagreed, saying that the media landscape was already too deregulatory and that another step in the wrong direction was unwarranted. He also complained that the public had not gotten sufficient chance to comment on the specific change.

The FCC's newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule change was also the subject of a couple of dozen lawsuits by groups claiming that it was too deregulatory and from broadcasters arguing that it was not sufficiently deregulatory.

Dorgan attempted the same procedural gambit back in 2003 after that more-deregulatory rule change under then-FCC chairman Michael Powell. The resolution passed in the Senate but went nowhere in the Republican-controlled House and then was mooted when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals stayed, then remanded, the rules back to the FCC.

It was that remand, in conjunction with a congressionally mandated review of all of the FCC rules, which led to the Dec. 18 vote and the déjà vu of lawsuits and the resolution to quash the decision.

Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez said he would advise the president to veto the resolution if it passes both the House and Senate.