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Martin Proposes Mid-December Wrap-Up of Media-Ownership Review

Federal Communications Commission member Jonathan Adelstein confirmed Wednesday that FCC chairman Kevin Martin has proposed a timetable for completing the years-long media-ownership rule review by mid-December, but unhappy top Senate Democrats vowed to hold a hearing quickly on that move.

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the digital-TV transition Wednesday, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), one of the most vocal critics of media consolidation, said he had just been informed that commissioner Robert McDowell, at another event, had said that the chairman was planning to wrap up media ownership by Dec. 18. Adelstein said that since he was addressing Congress, he could confirm that was the chairman’s plan, adding that there was an effort to wrap the proceeding up by December, but that he didn’t know why that particular date.

If that is true, "there is going to be a firestorm of protest, and I will be carrying the wood," Dorgan said, adding that the FCC could not possibly review all of the relevant information by then and come up with fair rule changes.

Dorgan asked Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) to call a hearing, and Inouye was quick to agree, saying that he knew all about Britney Spears’ and Paris Hilton's tattoos, but not much about real news, and that the situation wasn’t getting better with concentration. "I am with him and we will have a hearing," he added.

Adelstein, a witness at the hearing, said he agreed with Dorgan that the FCC needed to consider DTV public-interest obligations, localism and minority concerns before revising the rules.

An FCC source familiar with the proposal confirms that, more than two weeks ago, the chairman circulated a proposal to bring the ownership review to a close, seeking other commissioner's input on bringing closure to an 18-month proceeding with a federal court waiting for an answer. The chairman's timeline included holding the last localism hearing Oct. 31, and the last media ownership hearing in early November, then collecting final comments.

Since Martin has already committed to completing the separate broadcast localism review and issuing a report on it before proceeding with broader rule changes, that report would have to be issued in the next couple of weeks to meet the December timetable for a possible vote.

The source said the chairman's move could arguably be seen as a collegial one, since he controls the calendar and would not necessarily have had to seek input from his colleagues on a proposed timetable.