FCC Seeks Feedback

For some time now, the truly hip Web-enabled person of stature has shared his or her thoughts with the world via a blog (from web log); these days actors, musicians, and, yes, even politicians are getting into the act.

On July 7, the Federal Communications Commission chairman became a blogger. Powell's column is slated to be a regular feature on the AlwaysOn Network. Powell explains, "I am participating in AlwaysOn Network's blog [ . . . ] to hear from the tech community directly and to try to get beyond the traditional inside the Beltway Washington world where lobbyists filter the techies. I am looking forward to an open, transparent, and meritocracy-based communication."

It remains to be seen if this forum actually gives consumers the same degree of access to the commissioner's ear that is enjoyed by Beltway insiders and lobbyists, but we think you should give Mr. Powell the benefit of the doubt and give him the earful he's requesting.

One possible subject for comment might be the FCC's announcement on July 7 of its intention to require broadcasters to retain copies of their broadcasts for 60–90 days, ostensibly to make it easier for average viewers or listeners to make complaints about indecent content.

Commissioner Michael J. Copps explained, "When someone sends in a complaint, he or she is usually told to supply a recording of the program or a transcript of the offending statement, or the complaint will be dismissed. This policy ignores that it is the Commission's responsibility to investigate complaints that the law has been violated, not the citizen's."

This certainly sound reasonable enough. However, you may wish to read the complete text of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) In the Matter of: Retention by Broadcasters of Program Recordings can be downloaded as a .pdf file here.

It's worthwhile to peruse this document, if only to observe the vagueness of its language in regards to "profanity." The NPRM states, "The Commission also held that its definition of profanity includes material that 'denotes certain of those personally reviling epithets naturally tending to provoke violent resentment or denoting language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.'"

Some civil libertarians complain that this language opens the door for regulation not covered in the ostensible brief of the proposed rule. They observe that, while there are many court cases bolstering the FCC's authority to regulate obscenity (conveniently cited in the third paragraph of the NPRM's introduction), there is no such bulwark of case law bolstering the commission's authority to regulate profanity—or even defining it.

The FCC will be accepting comments on the NPRM In the Matter of: Retention by Broadcasters of Program Recordings until July 30.