What is a comment worth?

Comments work very differently at the FCC than they do in Congress.

Representatives can take your advice or leave it and make they’re decisions based on any whim or reason of their choosing. The FCC is supposed to base its regulations on evidence and sound reasoning so they can demonstrate that the rules are in the public interest. That was basically what the federal judge said in Prometheus Radio Project vs. FCC (2004), which halted the 2003 round of deregulation.

So it’s an especially big deal when the FCC buries, burns, or ignores reports that contain evidence that deregulation hurts consumers and local communities, aside from it being further evidence of secrecy and malfeasance in the federal government. One of the reports said consolidation in television station ownership resulted in less local news coverage; the other said deregulation of the radio industry had resulted in marked consolidation.

It seems absurd to me that the FCC could still try to weaken already meager restrictions on ownership in the wake of that scandal and in the face of that evidence, but what do I know.

Petri Dish at Prometheus Radio responded to the unearthing of the first report with a statement calling on the FCC to incorporate the testimony submitted to the “Localism Task Force” in 2003 with the current ownership proceedings.

Apparently, Michael Powell used procedural measures in defiance of logic to separate out the issue of localism from the issue of ownership, creating a “localism docket” that was separate from the “ownership proceedings.” The thousands of people testifying on such things as the importance of local news had their impact muffled.

I didn’t totally understand that, so I instant-messaged Hannah, also from Prometheus, about it. She said it would be a “retroactive victory for all of those people who commented.”

5:45:27 PM Hannah: if the localism docket is combined with the media ownership rulemaking
5:45:40 PM Hannah: each instance of a person mentioning abuse or lack of action or bias by a local outlet
5:45:46 PM Hannah: or positive action by a local outlet
5:45:53 PM Hannah: has to be researched and supported or refuted
5:45:54 PM Hannah: and/or
5:46:01 PM Hannah: can be used in a judicial review of the rulemaking
5:46:23 PM Hannah: so what was offered as a comforter to millions of angry americans who suddenly couldn’t speak on the powell ownership docket
5:46:33 PM Hannah: become building blocks for another media infrastructure in the martin docket
5:46:34 PM Hannah: there!
5:46:39 PM Hannah: I WILL PUT THAT IN A BLOG
5:46:40 PM Hannah: HOW ABOUT THAT
5:46:41 PM Hannah: hahaha
5:46:53 PM Josh: if you don’t, I will

Hannah is actually on Counterspin today. Apparently Janine Jackson wanted to talk about a slightly different idea that Hannah actually did write about on her blog.

She pointed to the example of the MITRE study, an independent study commissioned by the FCC to investigate claims from NPR and the NAB that additional LPFM stations would interfere with existing broadcasters. The study proved the claims false, but it derailed LPFM for three years and counting. But since there was this study, even Congress now seems to understand that the FCC should expand LPFM licensing.

She questions why industry claims that loosening restrictions on ownership will not interfere with the public interest should not be investigated just as thoroughly. The released reports demonstrate a quantifiable impact of deregulation. The FCC should have to commission an independent report to determine what the impact of further deregulation would be before actually implementing any changes.

Not only could this cause a significant delay in the process as the MITRE study did for LPFM, but it would help shift the argument towards facts and real-world impacts, which would tend to benefit our side, the factinistas.

The further result, as she points out, is that comments – whether submitted to the FCC or gathered through projects like Free The Flyers – become hard evidence, as the localism docket should be.

This points to another strategy for responding to the Comcast monopoly: patient documentation of the impact of that monopoly, which then becomes the basis for an antitrust case in court (as some are already trying) or a public interest case before the FCC.

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2 Comments

  1. […] Read more: What is my comment worth? […]

  2. […] Keep in mind that tonight’s event is a public forum, but it is not an official FCC hearing. That means, if you want your comment to count, you need to submit it to the FCC, regardless of whether you say it at the forum. StopBigMedia.com has helpful online tools for that and other actions. […]

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