WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission's two Democrats said Friday they are frustrated by lack of information on the agency's review of media ownership rules and their chairman's refusal to make proposed changes public.
The agency's media bureau is expected to provide a draft proposal on rule changes to the five FCC commissioners by the end of Monday, three weeks before a planned vote on overhauling rules that govern ownership of newspapers and television and radio stations.
The FCC has been studying whether those decades-old restrictions still reflect a market altered by satellite broadcasts, cable television and the Internet.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said repeatedly that the rules are outdated and should be changed. The two other Republican commissioners are thought to have similar views.Many large media companies are seeking broad changes to a rules regime that they contend hurts business.
Commissioner Michael Copps, one of the FCC's two Democrats, said that with only a few weeks until the vote, "We don't know what we're going to be working on. It's like a state secret."
Copps spoke on Capitol Hill alongside Democrats from the Senate Commerce Committee at a panel discussion of experts opposed to media consolidation.
Sens. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said eased ownership restrictions will leave a few giant media companies in control of what people see, read and hear.
"The country is really standing on a cliff when it comes to media concentration," Wyden said. "When you go over that cliff you are going to be fundamentally changing what this country is about, and not for the better."
Current ownership rules prevent mergers between major television networks and limit the number of TV and radio stations a company can own in a market. The rules also prohibit any single company from owning TV stations that reach more than 35 percent of U.S. households or owning a newspaper and a radio or television station in the same city.
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