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McDowell: ‘Tipping Point’ for Regulation on Broadcasters

Federal Communications Commission member Robert McDowell outlined a dizzying array of market-driven media choices in a speech Wednesday in Washington, D.C., then asked his audience why policymakers, "like us," were considering and, in some cases, placing the "proverbial albatross" of more regulation on broadcasters.

His audience was for a keynote speech at the Quello Communications Law & Policy Symposium, which carries the name and imprimatur of former FCC chairman James Quello.

McDowell said adding more regulation, like new reporting requirements for stations, comes at a "tipping point" in history when broadcasters can least afford a regulatory handicap "vis-à-vis unregulated platforms like the Internet."

He added that requiring broadcasters to identify categories of programming they have aired -- religious, civic affairs -- is "regulating with a wink and a nod." Reporting of "independently produced" programming smacks of a return to the days of the FCC's financial interest and syndication rules, he said, which were struck down by a court in 1992.

"Simply put," he added, capping his pitch for a busy marketplace rather than busy regulators, "government cannot outsmart an unfettered and competitive market. The better course is to equip the private sector with the freedom and flexibility necessary to resolve challenges and satisfy consumer demand on its own, while remaining vigilant -- and ready -- to jump in to resolve genuine harms that cannot be addressed any other way."