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FCC Is Pulling Plug on CIN Study

“The FCC will not move forward with the Critical Information Needs study," an FCC spokesman said Friday. "The Commission will reassess the best way to fulfill its obligation to Congress to identify barriers to entry into the communications marketplace faced by entrepreneurs and other small businesses.”

The study had drawn criticism for plans to interview journalists over why they covered what they covered. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler suspended the study earlier in the week, at least until the methodology could be changed to scrub questions to journalists and media owners, but ultimately it appears to have been unsalvageable.

Commissioner Ajit Pai, who had called for its termination, said: "I am pleased that the FCC has canceled its Critical Information Needs study. In our country, the government does not tell the people what information they need. Instead, news outlets and the American public decide that for themselves. I look forward to working with my colleagues to identify and remove actual barriers to entry into the communications industry. This newsroom study was a distraction from that important goal."

The chairman's decision came only a day after former acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn defended the study's goals in a speech to the Media Institute. She pointed out that undertaking such a study was what Congress directed the FCC to do, and that "understanding the markets that we regulate is necessary, critical and urgent. And in a world where technological change happens at breakneck speed, we have three fundamental choices."

She appears ready to help the FCC to figure out how to fulfill that obligation. "I am about facilitating ownership and opportunities and making sound decisions about our most critical industries based on solid research and not rhetoric," she said in her speech this week.

Things moved fast after Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai wrote an op ed in the Wall Street Journal critical of the methodology of the pilot study in Columbia, S.C, which was to include asking journalists what they covered and why, the study issue became a topic of conversation on Fox and CNN—where Pai appeared—at the White House, where press secretary Jay Carney was asked about it, then back at the FCC, where Carney had referred reporters.

Chairman Tom Wheeler first said the study methodology would be changed, then later added that the study would not proceed until changes were made, including that no journalists or media owners would be polled. He also said the study was not an attempt to regulate journalists' speech.

House Republicans, who also queried Wheeler about the study last December, were not yet pacifiedsignaling they planned hearings and even legislation to try and block the study.

"We welcome the news that the FCC is dropping its ill-conceived encroachment into the newsroom,” said Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications subcommittee, respectively. “This is a victory for the First Amendment and freedom of the press. But this unprecedented and dangerous intrusion on America's newsrooms should never have been pursued in the first place. Although important questions remain, Chairman Wheeler's action is a positive step.”