Washington, D.C. – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should put the American people first, and issue meaningful and effective public interest obligations for digital television broadcasters before moving forward with a decision on multicast must-carry regulations. Chairman Kevin Martin has announced that the Commission will vote on must-carry rules at its public meeting scheduled for June 15. In the interest of the public which it serves, the FCC should complete its stalled public interest rulemaking for broadcasters by establishing minimum requirements for substantive civic or electoral programming and set clear standards and definitions for meeting those obligations to the public.
The Commission’s formal rulemaking process on the public interest obligations of broadcasters in the digital age has already dragged on for more than six years without any rules being issued. To proceed with digital multicast must-carry rules without having enacted clear, meaningful public interest obligations would put the cart before the horse yet again at the expense of the American public.
Broadcasters draw great benefit from a valuable public resource through their licenses. More than seven decades of federal communications law has required broadcasters to serve the public interest. The last major rewrite of telecommunications law in 1996 reiterated that statutory commitment in anticipation of the digital broadcast transition. But the sad reality is that commitment is not worth the paper it is written on because of the FCC’s unwillingness to effectively and clearly articulate what broadcasters should do to meet these obligations. Providing broadcasters with multicasting must-carry rights before articulating clear public interest obligations would be an unwise and unjustifiable giveaway to broadcasters.
Despite the Commission’s neglect, these obligations remain a critical component in the worthy goal of sustaining free, over-the-air broadcasting. The Campaign Legal Center strongly urges the Commission to put the interests of the American people before those of broadcasters for a change. Public interest obligations are too important to neglect.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Statement of Meredith McGehee, Policy Director, The Campaign Legal Center: