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Senators Push Public-Interest Proceeding

A pair of senators, Democrat Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Republican Trent Lott (R-Miss.), have written to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin asking that the FCC wrap up a 2003 proceeding on braodcasters' public interest service before launching a rewrite of deregulatory ownership rules.

"The FCC must first establish that there are sufficient mechanisms in place to ensure that broadcasters are serving their local communities before any loosening of ownership can occur."

FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in an effort to preserve his deregulatory ownership rules, argued that loosening those rules was a procedural matter and that the public-interest implications of the changes were better addressed in a separate proceeding, which he opened in 2003.

Martin has tentatively scheduled a vote on launching the long-delayed omnibus proceeding at the FCC's June 15 meeting, but according to a source, the public-interest proceeding was not part of the proposed notice, which folds in the 2003 ownership rule remand, two open proceedings--on newspaper-broadcast crossownership and radio markets--and the congressionally mandated quadrennial review of FCC rules.

Both Lott and Dorgan are members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees FCC matters. Dorgan has long complained about media consolidation.

Earlier this month, the senator from North Dakota tried to add an amendment to an already omnibus telecommunications rewrite bill to slow the "orgy of concentration."

The issue is something of a drumbeat with Dorgan. He tried to block raising the national broadcast ownership cap to 39% and sought to modify the Senate indecency bill back in 2004 to add a provision staying the FCC's deregulatory ownership rules--a court wound up doing that for him, anyway--until the FCC had studied the effects of consolidation on content.