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License Renewals Getting a Road Show

In a move sure to make life difficult for broadcasters, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell is planning to go on the road with his fellow commissioners to hold public hearings across the country, in part to tell viewers how they can petition the FCC to deny license renewals.

The effort is part of Powell’s localism initiative, unveiled in August, aimed at making sure that TV and radio stations meet the programming needs of their local communities.

The hearings are being announced just as the FCC is reviewing radio renewals in the first of 18 regional groups. TV renewals start one year from now. Some of the hearings will be in cities undergoing renewal reviews, while others will be ahead of the reviews.

The hearings will also be used to gain public input on any possible rule changes necessary to ensure that broadcasters uphold their obligation to serve local interest.

Powell said it's too early to determine if new rules will be needed. "I am not predisposed to say broadcasters are not living up to their obligations, and I'm not predisposed to say they are," he told reporters during a briefing Wednesday.

Democratic commissioner Michael Copps -- who criticized the localism initiative as a "ready, fire, aim" tactic designed to divert attention away from media-ownership deregulation -- was more conciliatory now that his road-show idea has been adopted.

"I am pleased," he said. "Hearings will provide the American people with the opportunity to tell us how well license-holders are doing in meeting their public-interest responsibility to service local communities."