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Senate Commerce Committee Tees Up FCC-Blocking Bill

The Senate Commerce Committee set Dec. 4 as the date to mark up (amend, debate and perhaps vote on) a bill that would effectively block Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin from holding a Dec. 18 vote on relaxing the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban.

The committee will also hear from the full complement of commissioners at a Dec. 13 hearing on "current proceedings involving media and telecommunications policy."

Both actions are attempts to put the breaks on Martin's effort to wrap up a media-ownership review now a year-and-a-half in the making.

In an e-mailed agenda on the markup hearing, dealing primarily with climate change and nominations in unrelated fields, No. 4 on the list was the Media Ownership Act of 2007.

The bill would require the FCC, generally, to publish any proposed rule changes in the Federal Register 90 days prior to a vote, giving the public 60 days to comment and another 30 days for reply comments.

It was co-sponsored by, among others, presidential hopefuls Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), as well as former hopeful Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). It also had Republican support from soon-to-be-ex Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott and Maine's. Olympia Snowe.

But the bill doesn't stop with generalizations, aiming its restrictions directly at Martin's plan to vote Dec. 18 on a proposal to lift the newspaper-TV station cross-ownership ban below the top 20 media markets and for stations below the top-four-rated.

Under the "effective date" heading of the bill and following the curious subhead, "In General," the bill gets pretty specific, saying, "The notice and public requirements … shall apply to any attempt by the commission to modify, revise, or amend its regulations related to broadcast and newspaper ownership made after Oct. 1, 2007."

If the FCC does not provide the requisite notice and comment periods for proposed rule changes, the bill said, the rule changes will be voided.

Dorgan tried to void the FCC's 2003 media-ownership-rule changes -- an effort that passed the full Senate but became moot when a federal court stayed and remanded the rules.

Martin is attempting to address the remand with what he called a compromise proposal on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership -- given that it does not lift the ban entirely -- and by saying that he would not propose other deregulatory changes in the 2003 rule rewrite.