Liveblogging The Media Consolidation Showdown Between The FCC And The Senate Commerce Committee

Join us at 10 a.m. for the FCC’s showdown with the Senate Commerce Committee. The hearing comes one day after Democratic Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps pilloried Chairman Kevin Martin’s plan to allow one company to control a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city as: “a mish-mash of half-baked ideas.”

This is the Chairman’s second romp to the Hill in defense of his ill-fated plan. Though at the last hearing in the House, Martin’s plan received tepid support, today he appears before Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who led the Senate Commerce Committee to pass a resolution ordering the FCC to delay its planned December 18 vote by at least 120 days.

Today’s showdown features one panel with all five members of the FCC. Can Kevin Martin and Spectacles of Hope prevail over Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and the Scowl of Doom? Start hitting refresh at 10 a.m. to find out.
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

9:55: Today’s video link comes in two flavors: Real Media Player and Windows Media Player/Quicktime.
10:12: We begin our liveblogging now.

10:14: One caveat: C-SPAN3 is broadcasting a panel of women who are confident that the nation is ready for a female President. Whoa, simply whoa, man. The Committee’s webcast promises: “coverage begins momentarily.” Until then, we’ll cover this panel. Liveblogging warmup.

10:16: This woman got her education in a one-room school, and supports bipartisanship.

10:16: There is another question. The question that came before this was: “I want Hillary to be the next President, but I hear that it won’t ever happen because people don’t like Bill. Will Hillary ever be a President?” C-SPAN also promises that the hearing will begin as soon as this is over.

10:17: “Raising children is such a critical job, that it be done well.”

10:18: We’re having fun imagining the Senators and the FCC Commissioners sitting in the Russell Building watching this fascinating discussion on feminism.

10:19: We think this woman wants money for raising her son.

10:20: Bumper sticker: Motherhood = unpaid labor.

10:20: “Unpaid labor is a huge issues in the United States that needs to be brought into feminism.”

10:20: This would almost be better than our media ownership showdown, except it isn’t.

10:21: Can we get a scab in the back to hold up a sign: “We Want Kevvy!”

10:23: Wait, no, this can’t be right. The tag in the corner reads: 11/16/04. Is our hearing being preempted by a two-year old chat? Really, C-SPAN?

10:24: Meghann immensely dislikes the phrase “Do The Math.” It makes her cringe.

10:25: Voter registration campaigns aimed at women have nail files that read: File For Change. How clever.

10:25: You do not have time for one last question. What? Two last questions? No, that’s not a last question.

10:26: Random Man Who May Have Fought With His Wife Last Night: “Try to get more men out of the closet to say “we support women’s issues.”

10:26: Look, we’re tired of beating around the bush: we want to hear the old white men who control the media!

10:28: We imagine Ted Stevens (R-AK) bursting through the fireplace, his soot-covered face boiling with anger because the womens are clogging his tubes.

10:30: C-SPAN3 will never rise to C-SPAN2 with this attitude. Poor choice, C-SPAN3.

10:30: The chat is over. Everybody applauds.

10:32: Finally, we see the hearing room. It is practically empty.

10:33: “Many members have been having their picture taken this morning.”

10:34: All the Committee members are sitting behind the podium, primping for their portraits.

10:35: We apologize to C-SPAN3 for the mean things we said five minutes ago. This isn’t your fault. Congress has failed us once again.

10:40: Random angry citizen (we’re onto Washington Journal while we wait for the hearing:) “Incompetent bureaucrats are giving away $10 million 1,000 times per year.”

10:46: No, Senator Innoye. You can’t start 46 minutes late and say “since time is of the essence.”

10:46: We’re skipping opening statements today.

10:46: Byron Dorgan: “I have been so looking forward to this hearing.”

10:47: Dorgan really can’t wait. He’s jumping right into his opening statement.

10:48: Dorgan has been summoned by Harry Reid (D-NV) for a meeting on the approps bills, which actually are more important than media ownership.

10:48: He’s leaving, grudgingly—but demands that the FCC postpone its planned December 18 vote.

10:49: Ha, good one Stevens. He offered to take Dorgan’s seat at the budget negotiating table. Dorgan countered that he could instead offer harsh questions to the FCC.

10:51: Chairman Martin is giving his opening statement.

10:51: We don’t have a transcript, but this sounds exactly like the statement Martin gave to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Nothing new for the Senate? That is kind of badass. Not something we’d expect from Chairman Spectacles.

10:53: We can hear Senator Stevens murmuring in the background.

10:54: Since he isn’t saying anything new, we will provide our coverage of his previous opening statement:

10:29: Martin thinks his proposal does boost competition, diversity, and localism–doesn’t quite see what Congress is upset about.

10:30: His study was lengthy and spirited.

10:31: He loves hearing from the public. His six hearings cost almost $200,000. That’s expensive, which means they were good.

10:32: The FCC has received over 600,000 comments so far, which is well short of the 2 million they received last time consolidation was proposed.

10:32: Though not required, he published the text of his proposed rule. How magnanimous.

10:33: “According to every measure, newspapers are struggling.” (With 18% profit margins.)

10:34: As a result, newspapers are firing reporters. They need to merge with the television networks, because we all know how well television reporters cover the news.

10:37: He wants more women and minorities to own media outlets. He’s going to help them, regardless of what happens with consolidation.

10:38: “It’s not an exaggeration to say that the media consolidation proposal is the most divisive to come before the Commission.”

Let’s see if he says anything new.

10:56: He is talking about the Universal Service Fund, the pot of gold that everybody pays into to support rural access to telecom services.

10:57: He’s going to build a strong backbone to link 6,000 hospitals and other health care providers.

10:59: @UCLAJason: The FCC is an independent agency. President nominates, Senate confirms. The majority party on the Commission has all the power. The one-chamber legislative veto was shot down by the Supreme Court in INS v Chadha.

@Weazel: Wasn’t that part of a West Wing episode?

11:00: Wait a minute… all of these opening statements are the same. Michael Copps again warned of a “consumer backlash the likes of which we have not seen for a long, long time.”

11:01: Are FCC Communication Directors part of the writers guild? We haven’t seen their YouTube videos.

11:05: Instead of stop, drop, and roll, Commissioner Copps thinks the FCC should “stop, drop, and listen.” That’s new.

11:08: Adelstein has a few new points. Media consolidation degrades women and causes violence.

11:09: More hating on the DTV transition and our headless response. Which brings us to our latest installment of Statements Commissioners Might Be Puzzled By If Re-Told To Their Five-Year-Old Selves. For Adelstein, today’s winner is: “We should have already finished our DTV education plan.” As a five-year-old, he placed greater importance on cookies, milk.

11:12: Commissioner Tate wins the hearing. Not only is she reading the same statement, she is wearing the same fifties-era Jetson suit.

11:12: Meghann: Are we sure she’s not the high school badminton coach?

11:16: It’s just so bright. Bright hair, bright glasses, bright earrings with matching bright necklace. And that suit…Jetson%20Suit.jpg
She closes with “Senator Lott, we’ll miss you.”

11:17: Onto Commissioner McDowell, who again is leading off with the Bill of Rights, and the first amendment, and “too much information.”

11:18: Graphical phrase of the morning: “Brilliant technological explosion.”

11:22: Wait, creators are taking their content directly to the internet? Because of the writer’s strike? Um, no. YouTube strike videos do not count.

11:25: This is Senator Lott’s last hearing before he quits and follows the money-bags to K-Street. He gets to speak first.

11:25: His request: He wants his picture taken with Senator Innoye.

11:26: He’s praising the Commission as “one of the best we’ve ever had.”

11:26: He has a confession. A few years ago, he blocked a few nominations here and there. But he got together with Senator Daschle and approved 81 nominations in one day—one of them was Jonathan Adelstein. Lott is proud of him, like an uncle telling a child, “I was in the hospital when you were born.”

11:28: “I still don’t see why you need to pass thing on December 18.”

11:28: Not because he disagrees, but because waiting will placate everyone. “Why give us an argument to attack you on?”

11:28: “I would plead with you, take a little bit of time, take away that argument, and then come to the same conclusion.”

11:29: “The FCC is worried about the financial condition of the newspapers? What?”

11:29: “I don’t get why Republicans would be crying alligators over newspapers losing readership.”

11:30: “Where I’m from, we buy them to wrap our mullet with.”

11:30: This is a great last stand, Senator Lott. Stevens, the bar has been set high.

11:32: Good representing, Senator. He cares only if a waiver is being proposed for Jackson, MS. That won’t happen anytime soon according to the Chairman.

11:35: Lott to Commissioner Tate: “Good luck, keep these guys under control.” And with that, Lott is done.

11:36: Innouye wants to know why the GAO linked to, rather than print, the FCC’s response to their allegations of incompetently managing the DTV transfer.

11:37: Part of the FCC’s comment was that they spent a lot of time on their response, and the GAO should print it in its entirety.

11:37: “Mr. Chairman, I am concerned about the tone of that paragraph.” Please, Senator Innoye, make him stand in the back of the room with his face towards the wall. That’ll teach him to impugn the right of Congress’ oversight rights.

11:38: It was all a misunderstanding, according to Martin. He wanted the GAO to print his response in its entirety, and they refused. He even offered to pay to print the response, but again, the GAO refused. But now they decided to link to the FCC’s response.

11:40: The FCC has done its work on the technical aspects on the DTV transition.

11:41: And now: Stevens!

11:41: Mergers take place because of decreased revenue and decreased service.

11:42: Local people don’t read local papers “because they don’t include accurate news.”

11:42: “I think you need to take more time on that cross ownership business.”

11:42: “[Alaska has] been left out of the expansion of media in the past.”

11:43: Many small cable providers don’t have the capacity for dual-carriage. Until the transition, signals will be both digital and analogue.

11:44: Dual-carriage could put small Alaskan broadcaster out of business.

11:46: No, says Martin. The FCC won’t put anyone out of business. That is what waivers are for.

11:46: There is a Congressionally mandated group looking at rules for wireless alerts.

11:46: This came out of the port security debacle last year.

11:47: The wireless industry could opt-in to provide those warnings. Martin hopes that will happen. Hint, hint, Ivan Seidenberg.

11:48: Stevens is worried that “the village people” will not hear about the transition.

11:48: He isn’t talking about the Indian and construction dude. He’s worried that people in Alaskan villages won’t know about the DTV transition. Just like, oh, grandparents in New York City.

11:49: Copps is seizing the opportunity to compare us to England. They spent $400 million on their transition compared to our $5 million.

11:51: “My state is five times the size of Great Britain!” “You can’t compare us to Great Britain.” Stevens is right. We must spend $2 billion to educate Alaskans.

11:51: There needs to be private sector cooperation. Cablevision is willing to help scare people. Somebody should talk to them.

11:52: Stevens is taking the blame for failing to allocate more money to public education.

11:55: Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has brought a soapbox. He is standing on it now, talking about railroads.

11:58: “There is not really a clear direction.” So true.

11:59: He wants to postpone action on any FCC nominee until a new President is elected.

11:59: Come on Rockefeller, make us proud. Offer to buy the FCC.

12:00: “There’s just so many places that don’t have service.”

12:00: The soapbox is groaning from the weight of its wealthy occupant.

12:02: Is there a question in here? We’ve bounced from cellphones to the universal service fees to inappropriate content. Meghann asks: “Goddamn is this one of those filibusters?”

12:03: “I’m not happy with what’s happening.” Is he talking about his speech?

12:05: Senator Kerry is here. We won’t call him Senator Flip-Flop McSandalFace because that would be mean and childish.

12:07: “Shouldn’t the focus of the FCC be reaching all Americans with modern media?”

12:08: Right, much like the Congress should be focusing on passing a budget instead of mucking with media ownership. It’s called multi-tasking, Senator.

12:09: “Let me get to the nub of this, if I can.” He is, by the way, wearing a salmon tie.

12:10: “Who created the FCC, Mr. Chairman?” Read: Who’s ‘yo daddy?!

12:10: Kevin sees what’s going on here. “Congress created the FCC, Senator.”

12:11: “Can you show me here *holds up Telecommunications Act* where there’s any mention of newspapers?

12:11: Martin’s paraphrased answer: Um, it says it right here, under Section one-oh-shut-up.

12:12: ‘We do have a responsibility on balance to ensure the presence of local voices in local communities.’

12:12: Kerry wants to know if Martin would consider postponing the vote.

12:15: Kevin: No.

12:18: Kerry is still pounding on his point. Newspapers aren’t part of FCC jurisdiction, the FCC should wait.

12:17: It looks like Kevin’s breaking. Or at least getting ready to cry. The Spectacles of Hope glow brightly under the hearing lights.

12:19: Kerry: “You seem to be digging a hole deeper and deeper here.”

12:21: Martin envisions no proposal that could earn a unanimous vote. He’s calling his colleagues political shills, obstructionists who don’t want to engage the substance of the matter.

12:22: Kerry, sensing an invite: “You are inviting another Congressional response.”

12:23: Copps: “We are not the Federal Newspaper Commission, I understand that.”

12:24: This isn’t a divisive issue. 70% of Americans—not members of a specific party—think media consolidation is a problem. A majority want Congress to vote “yes” on the eVite and respond with legislation. They may also be interested in carpooling.

12:26: Is that Senator Boxer? She’s pissed off because of the order of recognition. She was here for the photograph, dammit. Now she gets a phone call and wants to talk? That was weird.

12:29: Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) is asking about WWOR, a Jersey station that uses the New York skyline for its logo and doesn’t seem to like Jersey.

12:29: Martin is going to consider the license renewal. They were supposed to cover more local news to prevent it from becoming a New York station, one with, say, the New York skyline for its logo.

12:31: “It appears they did not meet the requirements.” The FCC’s response may involve more requirements for the station to ignore.

12:33: Copps: “That was one of the best public comment periods we’ve had in a long, long time.”

12:37: Senator Klobuchar is here and wants to talk about cellphones and our favorite bill of the 110th Congress.

12:37: The wireless companies have asked the FCC to rule that early termination fees are rates charged, which would preempt state laws.

12:38: Martin: “The problems are significant and are proliferating across sectors.” “They are problems.”

12:39: People don’t want the FCC to rule under section 201, but Martin thinks he would have the authority to determine whether its a reasonable practice.

12:40: Klobuchar wants to talk about locked handsets.

12:41: Martin agrees, which is why the big spectrum auction requires open access rules for Block C.

12:41: ‘If Congress tells us we need to implement that for the rest of the spectrum, we will.’

12:43: Copps hit on our favorite point. There should be no ETF if you bring your own phone. No subsidy, no need for an ETF.

12:44: Copps brings us another installment of Statements Commissioners Might Be Puzzled By If Re-Told To Their Five-Year-Old Selves: “If I were King for a day, I would create White House task force on the DTV transition.”

12:47: Boxer’s back. On DTV: “You’ve got a train coming down the tracks.” “You’re going to blamed for it if it doesn’t go right.”

12:51: Boxer doesn’t want Kevin appointing Inspector Generals. Fox guarding the chicken-coop syndrome and all.

12:56: Martin is defending his numerous studies. The ones that were blasted at the last hearing as utterly unfair and inaccurate.

12:57: Commissioner Adelstein didn’t feel that his ‘right to give input was afforded.’

12:58: The authors of the studies were not experts on media ownership. They were useless economists.

1:04: We have arrived at our clean-up hitter, Senator Nelson (D-FL.)

1:05: He’s painting a messy picture of skewed statistics and colored motivations, all painted on a canvas of corrupt intentions.

1:07: He always chokes off public comment one week before a vote. Nothing abnormal there. Seven days is plenty of time to look at comments.

1:09: Martin doesn’t know if papers are losing money. He read that they are in the paper. That is all he’s going on. Nelson wants to know with a yes or no answer if he took internet revenue into account when determining whether papers are losing money.

1:10: Martin can’t answer because he didn’t read about that in the paper.

1:10: He keeps referencing the San Francisco Chronicle, which loses $1 million per week.

1:14: Big skirmish over the FCC’s ability to release data. They buy from commercial data clearinghouses, but can’t make that data public without hurting the supplier’s ability to re-sell the data. Nelson didn’t quite follow.

1:20: Senator McCaskill is up, wondering why everyone is still here.

1:22: Also using the runaway train comparison with DTV.

1:23: “I know you’re cranky about the GAO report.”

1:24: She is upset that we are 17 days away from the start of the DTV transition, but that the FCC is doing media ownership instead.

1:24: Martin is saying ‘not my responsibility.’ He thinks the coupon program should manage all public education.

1:25: Martin is now blaming Congress. He asked for funds to run a public education campaign, but Congress gave the money to the Department of Commerce.

1:26: Kevin is taking on a pissy attitude. He clearly wants to go home.

1:29: McCaskill wants to know why FCC votes aren’t public.

1:30: Martin skirts the question and offers to make public which Commissioners haven’t voted on certain items—but then he came around and said people should know how people voted.

1:31: Copps and Adelstein agree.

1:34: McCaskill: “You are a remarkable leader if in light of all the opposition you move ahead. You’re a braver man than I am.”

1:34: Chairman Innouye is amazed that the attendance rate for this hearing was higher than any he can remember.

1:35: The hearing is adjourned.

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