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FCC public-interest reading too broad

The meaning of the FCC's "public interest" authority got another airing last week.

FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth repeated his familiar refrain before the Washington Legal Foundation, arguing that the FCC routinely steps far beyond any reasonable interpretation of the 1934 Communications Act, which authorizes the agency to base its decisions on what is in the "public interest." The vague but broadly wielded authority has provided the rationale for imposing merger conditions, children's TV rules and a host of other requirements on FCC license holders.

Furchtgott-Roth said the FCC should rely only infrequently on its public-interest authority.

Industry attorney Robert Corn-Revere said the public-interest authority too often is invoked to restrict broadcasters' First Amendment rights. The latest examples: efforts to require video description services for the blind and government inquiries into the need for additional public-interest obligations for digital TV stations.