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Minority Ownership Promoted During FCC Reform Hearing

Eshoo says online public file rule is meant to get public station inspection files out of ‘basement cabinets’

Minority media ownership received attention at an FCC reform hearing today.

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., said during a House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing that less than a handful of stations in Pittsburgh where he lives are owned by minorities or women.

Both FCC Commissioners Robert McDowell and new Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called for incentives for current station owners to sell to minorities and women — incentives like Congressional approval of bringing back the Minority Tax Certificate program, which was in place from 1978 to 1995.

The commission is gathering data and finishing studies on possible incentives “to make sure what we do is legally enforceable,” said McDowell.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Rosenworcel on the issue of minority ownership in general.

The commission also needs to clarify its broadcast indecency policy in light of recent Supreme Court decisions and process the approximately 1.5 million indecency complaints, some of which have been pending for nine years, said McDowell.

The new rule set to go into effect Aug. 2 requiring TV stations to start placing their public files online received some attention. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said the new rule is vital. “We need to go beyond wooden file cases. We need to bring this information online and out of these basement cabinets where this information probably sits at stations today.”

Broadcasters have appealed the effectiveness of the new rule which the agency is looking at applying to radio as well.

As far as FCC rules in general, McDowell suggested that every rule should have a sunset date to keep the commission’s regulations up-to-date.

New Commissioner Ajit Pai said in his 80-plus meetings so far in the job, he’s been struck by how often lawmakers and trade association representatives tell him how delayed agency action is on the various industries it regulates. “The FCC needs to become more nimble.” As technology moves away from copper wire and towards IP, Pai’s worried about imposing regulations on high-capacity services will curb investment.

Much of the discussion centered on voluntary incentive auctions to persuade TV stations to relinquish analog spectrum that could be auctioned for mobile broadband services. McDowell cautioned that the NTIA estimate of $18 billion being bandied about as to how much that spectrum would really bring at auction is probably overly optimistic. Even if the approximately 500 MHz stated in the national broadband plan as necessary to be auctioned were found and auctioned today, it could still take a decade to get that spectrum into consumers’ hands, said McDowell. He recommended an inventory of government spectrum be completed first to ensure the government is using its spectrum efficiently. The president would likely need to make that an executive order, said McDowell.