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Senate Commerce revises FCC bill - Broadcasting & Cable

Senate Commerce revises FCC bill

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The Senate Commerce Committee Thursday modified the Federal Communications Commission-reauthorization bill
to change the FCC's two-year review of media ownership rules to four years, in
contrast to the five-year period approved in a different bill last week.

The rationale for the quadrennial review was that a five-year period would
prevent some administrations from having their turn at reviewing the rules.

But that was just one of many amendments offered in a markup Thursday.

As expected, the committee also voted to:

  • Scrap the 50% UHF discount for any station bought after June 2, 2003, and
    for all stations effective Jan. 1, 2008.
  • Establish that the FCC may retain or strengthen, as well as jettison, rules
    during reviews.
  • nBoost fines and toughen indecency rules, including treating certain
    violations as multiple violations and triggering license-revocation
    hearings.
  • Clarify the FCC's jurisdiction over video-description services, including
    whether or not to include crawls.
  • Require the FCC to establish a process for reviewing political ad
    complaints.
  • Force the FCC to pay for its own trips to industry functions.
  • Place a one-year moratorium on commission lobbying by certain former
    officials.
  • Establish rules for digital-TV translators and repeaters in rural areas.
  • And those are just the ones that passed.

Withdrawn were a number of amendments on localism and license renewal that
would put additional obligations on broadcasters.

They may be gone, but they aren't forgotten. Committee chairman John
McCain (R-Ariz.) pledged to hold a hearing on those issues, saying it would be
in early July, in advance of a floor vote on the bill.

In the "withdrawn" category was an amendment from Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) that would have directed the FCC to come up with local programming
quotas for FCC licensees.

The amendment was served up with various complaints about "centralcasting"
and newspeople who gave the impression of being local while they are actually 1,000
miles away.

If that wasn't outright deception, McCain said, it certainly raised
questions.

Also withdrawn were amendments from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) defining
citizens' standing to challenge license renewals and requiring that public-interest programming be quantified in renewal applications.

She pledged to continue to push for those amendments, and McCain assured her
that those issues could be addressed in the July hearing.

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