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McDowell: Time for FCC to Re-Start Diversity Committee

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell pushed the commission to reconstitute its diversity advisory committee, and get moving on its review of media ownership rules which includes reviewing some diversity initiatives rejected in a recent court decision. That was part of his message to a Minority Media & Telecommunications Council conference audience in Washington Thursday.

McDowell, the only commissioner attending the conference--he got a round of applause for that--told his audience that the issue reclaiming spectrum from broadcasters was another one that affected them, since if the result was fewer TV stations.

"I hope the diversity committee will be reconstituted soon," said McDowell, pointing out that it had been rechartered in January, his nominee has been in since February, he said. "It is 102 degrees outside and it has been a long time since February," he added, turning to the moderator of his discussion, MMTC Chair and Wiley Rein partner Henry Rivera, who also happens to be chair of the as-yet reconstituted committee. "You are a general without an army right now," he told Rivera, "and we need to populate the committee as soon as possible."

McDowell pointed out that FCC Chief of Staff Eddie Lazarus will be speaking later to the conference and might have some positive news about the committee. "We have had the Third Circuit decision and that is no longer an excuse for delay," said McDowell.An FCC official said an announcement on the reconstitution of the new committee is expected within the next few weeks. That will likely come in the form of a public notice announcing the new names.

The Third Circuit in its recent media ownership rule decision vacated some of the FCC's diversity initiatives. McDowell said that it was time to go back to the original notice of inquiry and rebuild the record. "Now we need to work on our methodology and reasoning and improve it," and then, "move to a [media ownership] rulemaking as quickly as possible."

McDowell suggested that the incentive auctions and the reclamation of some spectrum from broadcasters was a diversity issue that affected the FCC's do-over on those vacated diversity initiatives. "If that does mean fewer television stations exist, then that directly affects this. There may be less opportunity." McDowell said that someone has recently asked him "whether the FCC was going to be pushing women and minorities into an area where there are fewer opportunities or less opportunities economically speaking. So I think we need to look at new media. There are lower barriers to entry and potentially greater audiences and more efficiencies. We need to look at the whole picture and think what we can do about encouraging participation in that spaces as well."

In response to a question, he said he hoped there would be a legally sustainable designated entry (DE) program for the spectrum incentive auctions, but needed to be careful of putting some kinds of restrictions and conditions on spectrum. He pointed to the C block open access conditions that drove larger bidders into other blocks that had been designed for small businesses, driving up the price there. He pointed to letters from some smaller players saying they had been driven out of the market.

But he said a DE program, or how spectrum blocks were sized, would be ways to insure as many players as possible.