New FCC commisssioner explains why he did not support Chairman Kevin Martin in his bid to extend must-carry rights to all broadcast digital multicast signals. McDowell also advocates breaking up media ownership proceeding, tackling TV, radio and newspaper separately.
Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell told reporters in Washington this morning that the FCC would be overreaching if it adopted expanded must-carry rules requiring cable operators to carry all digital multicast broadcast signals
“I don’t believe the statute gives the FCC authority to impose that,” he said. “Should Congress give us an explicit mandate, I would follow it.”Ã‚Â
In his first press conference, McDowell also said he expects the proceeding on media ownership limits to dominate the agency in the months ahead. But he gave no indication on how he is leaning on any of the issues.
He also said he favored breaking up the ownership proceeding so that the commissioners could consider the broadcast-newspaper crossownership ban, radio station limits and the TV duopoly restrictions individually. “I think there is a logic to that.”Ã‚Â
Without McDowell’s vote, digital must carry appears to be dead at the FCC. The other four commissioners are split on the issue. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Deborah Tate—McDowell’s fellow Republicans—favor the rules; Democrats Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps are opposed.
When McDowell was sworn in as the fifth and final commissioner on June 1, Martin apparently believed his fellow Republican would deliver the third vote he needed for must carry.
Martin scheduled a must-carry vote for June 21, signaling to Washington insiders that he had McDowell in his pocket.
So, it came as a shock to broadcasters who strongly back the proposal when Martin yanked the item from the meeting agenda on June 18, a Sunday night, just three days before the scheduled vote.
The move left Washington lobbyists and communications attorneys questioning Martin’s political smarts. Why, they wondered, would he have scheduled the vote if he wasn’t sure that he had three votes? Hadn’t he discussed the issue with McDowell?
Martin’s political misfire, which had been contained within Washington’s insular telecommunications policy subculture, became common knowledge this morning when the Washington Post ran a story on the must-carry debacle and McDowell’s “independence.”Ã‚Â
“Lawyers who follow the agency closely say McDowell’s early record has served notice that he is an independent force at the FCC who is willing to defy the chairman,” the story said.