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Editorial: Rush Hour II

It was another one of those weeks in Washington. A flurry of activity that became a blizzard, with spectrum bills introduced from both sides of the aisle, the Senate Commerce Committee holding confirmation hearings on two FCC nominees, the FCC publishing a treatise on why it does not think AT&T and T-Mobile should be allowed to combine, FCC reform hearings, a new online app ratings system and an important Federal Trade Commission smackdown of Facebook over privacy issues.

There was actually more, but the point is made.

Before we weigh into several of these issues, we want to first tip our editorial visor to this week’s cover subject, Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps. His appearance on the cover may come as something of a surprise given how often we have crossed swords with the commissioner on this page over media ownership regs and public interest obligations.

We still think he is wrong about trying to block rule revisions for an industry facing competition from other platforms not similarly hamstrung. But Copps has also spoken out for diverse communities, including Native Americans, for minorities and others who need and deserve a champion in Washington.

And while we think that businesses know better how to program to their audience and preserve a vibrant industry than do government regulators, we also respect that there is another side that deserved a hearing, one that commissioner Copps has offered to anyone within earshot.

And Republicans and Democrats alike will vouch for the fact that when Copps took over as acting FCC chairman after Kevin Martin exited, a new wind of collegiality blew through the place.

In this age of killing the messenger and then stomping on them and spitting on their grave if they disagree politically, it may be hard to fathom, but one can disagree with the policies and positions of an adversary while still respecting them if they are consistent in their message and, particularly, if they are eloquent in their arguments, as Copps has been. This page and commissioner Copps share a keen interest in broadcasting and an appreciation of its power and value; we just disagree on the best way of maintaining and advancing it.

On to last week’s spectrum bills, proposed by Democrats and Republicans in the House. If they can come up with a compromise that truly protects incumbent broadcasters that want to remain incumbent, while fairly compensating those who volunteer spectrum, we support it. But absent that, the need for an interoperable broadband communications network should not be used to push a bad bill out the Capitol door in advance of the holidays.

Congress could light a fire under itself and get Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel onto the commission by the beginning of next year, when Copps is exiting. Both are experienced and noncontroversial. There is a potential hold on the nominations by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) over an unrelated issue, but we’re hoping he can work that out with Senate Commerce Committee leadership.

FCC reform legislation scheduled to be marked up in committee last week is essentially a Republican shot across the bow at a Democratic FCC chairman, and at regulation in general. It may pass the House eventually, but almost certainly won’t make its way through the Senate. Among the good ideas in there is a periodic report to Congress on how the FCC is doing; even if that passed, the FCC is famous for not meeting report deadlines (the agency has yet to release its 2007 video competition report, for example).

And finally, Facebook has agreed to better protect the privacy of its online information, which is a good thing. But that has not stopped calls from Congress for privacy legislation, which may be a good thing, or a problematic thing, depending on how the legislation is written. Clearly there are issues with privacy protection and data sharing that we need to resolve as we spend more of our lives online, but Washington has a habit of shooting behind its target and doing collateral damage in the process.