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MoveOn.org and the FCC

I received an e-mail from MoveOn.org today:

Dear MoveOn member,

This Monday, FCC Chair Michael Powell will hold his vote on media consolidation. There's nothing special about that date -- it's totally arbitrary. The vote will conclude a process which has shown deliberate disregard for the views and opinions of the American people. Powell has refused to even release the actual language of the rule change -- it won't be known until after the vote. And he's only held a single meeting to hear the views of the public. Even when a bipartisan group of Senators requested that he give Congress some time to discuss the impact of this change, Powell brushed them off.

Chairman Powell still has the power to delay the rule change and allow time to have a democratic debate about its consequences. Please call him today and ask him to allow a real public debate on an issue of such massive importance.

You can reach Powell's office at:
(202) 418-1000

Once you've made your call, please let us know at: [here]...

Even if Powell doesn't reschedule the rule change vote, getting thousands of calls into his office will send a strong message that the public is watching him. Powell doesn't appreciate this kind of pressure: in a recent interview, he said that "I think we're one of the most heavily lobbied federal institutions in the government, probably second only to the United States Congress. I don't, by the way, think that's a particularly good thing." We need to remind him that public involvement in decision making is what democracy is all about...

It's not too late to do this process right.

I called Chairman Powell's office to let my opinion be heard, and listened to a recorded message:

If you would like to file comments regarding broadcast ownership, go to the FCC's Web page... This is the only way this office may accept comments.
This is reasonable, except when you consider that Chairman Powell has already indicated his intent to disregard public comments. As I wrote a few weeks ago:
In an interesting twist, Chairman Powell is using an Orwellian argument -- as Cory Doctorow put it -- to justify the lack of public hearings on the topic:
In a phone interview last week, [dissident FCC Commissioner Michael] Copps said that of roughly 18,000 public comments on the proposed changes -- not counting the hundred or so from media companies or organized coalitions -- "I haven't seen any that say, 'Let's relax the rules further.' " ...

Even the nature of the debate has fallen victim to the FCC's partisan politics. While the two Democratic commissioners, Copps and Jeffrey Adelstein, argued for public hearings around the country, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said such hearings were not necessary given the outpouring of commentary reaching the commission.

In other words, we've received so much negative feedback to this proposal that we can skip the public hearings, which would merely provide more negative feedback, and go directly to voting in this proposal.
So the Chairman is telling people to leave comments on the Website, while at the same time ignoring the substance of these comments and using their numbers to justify cutting off public debate.

The Washington Post gives some perspective on the public comments:

In recent days, the FCC has been inundated with hundreds of thousands of e-mails and e-petitions. MoveOn.org, a public-interest organization founded by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, says it has collected 170,000 signatures on a petition to the FCC, urging the agency to keep the rules in place...

Members of the National Rifle Association have sent 300,000 postcards demanding the same. The FCC's Web site has received more than 9,000 e-mail comments over recent months from individuals who claim no affiliation with corporations or associations. Of those, according to a musician's group that recently tallied the filings, only 11 comments support relaxing the media rules. Members of Congress are reporting that their offices are receiving substantial e-mail traffic as well.

Will Chairman Powell bow to pressure and hold off the vote? Will he proceed and find that one of his two allies on the Commission has cracked? Or will he hold the vote, win, and then lobby Congress not to undo his work?


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