Oops, the FCC Did It Again!

Seems like the FCC is about as crafty as a three-year-old hiding chocolate bars in his pants pockets on a warm summer day. Now Senator Barbara Boxer has uncovered another “lost” FCC report, an annual “Review of the Radio Industry” from 2003 [PDF link] which uncovers such mysteries like the fact that Clear Channel went from owning 62 stations in 1996, to 1,233 in 2003.

Since the report mostly confirms much of what we already know about the landscape of radio consolidation, the real questions are: Why did the FCC choose to bury the report for three years? And why hasn’t the FCC produced another annual report since then?

In a letter to Sen. Boxer released yesterday [PDF link], Chairman Martin attempts to distance himself from any apparent report burying quite directly, pointing out, “As with the previous study, I was not Chairman at the time the report was drafted.”

And then, in what cannot be reasonably called a coincidence, the same day the FCC announced an extension to the comment filing deadline for the media ownership rules review [PDF link], pushing it back one month to Oct. 23.

It’s actually somewhat interesting watching the Commission’s proponents of loosening ownership regs shoot themselves in the foot (or get shot in the back?) with these “lost” reports that testify to the negative effects of so-called deregulation. Frankly, the big activist telecom issue of the moment is network neutrality, and there doesn’t seem to be much room left in the progressive activist hivemind at the moment for media ownership. The ownership battle just hasn’t caught on like it did a few years back.

But news of the FCC burying reports brings the issue back up to the front page and threatens to get folks riled up again.

And, still, we’re waiting for the Commission’s promised new reports on various aspects of media ownership and its effects. I argue it’s important for these to be publicly released (along with the FCC’s proposed regulatory changes) in order for members of the public, like me, to file informed comments that can directly address the evidence and logic the FCC purports to have and use.

The Commission has finally announced its first public hearing on the issue (at a not-yet-announced location in Los Angeles on Oct. 3), but five more are still promised. Will they happen before the comment deadline closes?

Since Sen. Stevens may never get the requisite 60 votes he needs to press his telecomm bill–in turn lighting a new fire under net neutrality–there might be space for public outrage over media ownership to move towards center stage, putting Martin and Republicans running for re-election in the hot seat on the issue this fall.

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