FCC issues surface in presidential race


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Only a month or two before the 2008 presidential nominees face off in primaries, and less than a year before the general election, top candidates from both major parties are discussing key issues affecting communications policy. The picture will undoubtedly become clearer as of Feb. 5, 2008, this year's Super Tuesday, when up to 20 states will hold their primaries. But several big names have already given indications of where they stand on some of the most important issues facing the FCC.

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) has been very vocal on FCC issues. He is adamant about preventing further media consolidation. He issued a statement at the FCC's September localism hearing in Chicago expressing his disappointment at the Commission's leniency in permitting consolidation. Obama's comments echo the sentiments of Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, who agree that the Commission should be doing more to encourage diversity in ownership in broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets and the expression of diverse viewpoints.

Obama issued a second statement in October, commenting on reports that Chairman Kevin Martin intended to issue proposed media ownership rules in mid-November and schedule a vote on them for Dec. 18, 2007. Obama said that date is far too early in view of the issues that need to be considered. “I believe both the proposed timeline and process are irresponsible,” Obama wrote, saying more time for public consideration is warranted because, “minority owned and operated newspapers and radio stations play a critical role in the African American and Latino communities and bring minority issues to the forefront of our national discussion.”

In addition to suggesting that a special panel be commissioned to address minority ownership concerns, Obama favors shorter broadcast license renewal terms and more scrutiny from the commission regarding whether broadcasters are addressing their public interest obligations.

Online debate

Net neutrality, a policy that generally disfavors ISP discrimination among Internet users in terms of functionality and pricing, is another hot-button issue being referenced by candidates and is likely to come up throughout the election campaign. The Democratic candidates, most notably Senators Obama and Clinton (D-NY), support net neutrality. Taking a contrary view, Rudy Giuliani released a statement saying that the federal government must fight the urge to unnecessarily tax and overregulate the Internet. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has expressed a similar view, stating that the FCC should interfere only in markets where there are demonstrable infractions or unfair competition.

Another communications issue that could generate considerable talk throughout the election is the deployment of broadband in the U.S. and America's progress compared to that of other countries. Most of the candidates who have spoken out have focused on the social benefits of broadband and its ability to provide improved access to health care, education and other vital services.

Due to the increasing importance of communications issues to the economy and, more broadly, to social discourse, we can expect more attention to be devoted to these vital issues as Campaign '08 continues to unfold.


Dateline

Feb. 1 is the deadline for submission of biennial ownership reports by radio stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York and New Jersey.

On Feb. 1, radio stations with more than 10 full-time employees located in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi must file their Broadcast EEO Mid-Term Reports (Form 397) with the FCC. These reports must now be submitted electronically.

Also on or before Feb. 1, radio stations in the following states must place their annual EEO Reports in their pubic files: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Jersey and New York.


Martin is a past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, Arlington, VA. E-mail martin@fhhlaw.com.




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