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Republicans Seek Specifics FromFCC on Fairness Doctrine Departure

Top House Energy & Commerce
Committee Republicans thanked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Wednesday for
saying he planned to strike the Fairness Doctrine from the Code of Federal
Regulations, but said they wanted more info on when and how he was going to do
that, as well as on other regs that could be ripe for repeal.

Among the questions they want
answered: "When precisely will you eliminate the Fairness Doctrine and
related regulations," what is involved, do the other commissioners support
it and how long it will take.

The doctrine required TV stations
to air controversial issues of public importance and seek out opposing
viewpoints. Also still on the books are corollaries to the doctrine providing
for free response time for personal attacks and providing equal time for other
candidates if a station endorsed a candidate in an editorial. The corollaries
were repealed by the FCC in 2000but the legislators want those deep-sixed as
well, which Genachowski said he expected would happen.

In a June 8 letter to Genachowski,
E&C Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications Subcommittee Chairman
Greg Walden (R-Ore.) the pair praised his continuing opposition to the doctrine
as a chill on free speech. The FCC ruled the doctrine unconstitutional and thus
unenforceable back in 1987, but FCC Republican Robert McDowell recently pointed
out that it remained on the books and could be reinstated if a future
commission was of a mind too, suggesting it was time to strike it from therecord, as it were.

That prompted a request from Upton
and Walden that the FCC do just that,
followed by the FCC chairman's responsethat he expected that would happen as part of the FCC's general review of
regulations that could be dispensed with.

The chairman has said he has not
interest in reinstating the doctrine, and the President has echoed that
sentiment. But it has remained a perceived threat to some Republicans,
particular given that some powerful Democrats in Congress, including Senate
Communication Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), have in the past
suggested it should be revived as a counter to conservative talk radio, whose
rise coincided with the doctrine's demise. The legislators also pushed the
chairman to submit an agency plan per the president's directive on regulatory

"We have yet to see a plan
from your agency on how it will implement the January 2011 order and begin
eliminating other outmoded and economically harmful regulations. When will you
begin eliminating other antiquated rules that stifle investment and harm
innovation? What concrete steps will you take to reduce the burden on small
businesses, who are today's primary engine for jobs growth? How many jobs will
you create through your deregulatory efforts?"

The FCC is not bound by that
presidential order, as the legislators acknowledge. "We are also pleased
by your commitment in the letter to abide by President Obama's Executive Order
13563 on Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review, even though it does not
bind independent agencies such as the FCC," they wrote.

But the chairman's letter talks
more generally about reviewing regs rather than addressing the president's
specific order. And while an FCC source familiar with the chairman's thinking
told B&C last week the commission will honor, and has been honoring, the
spirit of that deregulatory directive in an ongoing regulatory review, it does
not intend, as an independent agency, to submit a formal plan to theadministration.
"We are implementing [the executive order's] intent," said that FCC
source speaking on background last week, "but as an independent agency we
are not formally submitting a plan," he said.

That came in response to a House
Energy & Commerce Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing
featuring Cass Sunstein, who heads the Office of Management and Budget's Office
of Regulatory Affairs and his heading up collection of the deregulatory plans.
He acknowledged that he had gotten no plan from the FCC and said he was
encouraging the commission to engage in the process.