FCC’s McDowell on Fairness and Neutrality

by on August 13, 2008 · 11 comments

This morning’s Drudge Report features the stories everyone is talking about today, with reports on U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps winning another couple of gold medals, the latest on the Russia-Georgia war, and — of course — FCC commissioner Robert McDowell on threat of the Fairness Doctrine and net neutrality regulation.

Well, maybe the first two stories are getting a bit more attention, but McDowell’s remarks —  made at The Heritage Foundation yesterday after a blogger’s briefing  — is getting a surprising amount of coverage in the blogsphere and trade press.

The remarks were originally reported in a story on the Business and Media Institute website, in response to a question about prospects for a Fairness Doctrine revival.   McDowell responded that it the issue hadn’t been raised at the FCC, but went on to state that there is a danger of similar rules put into place under a different name.   A spot-on analysis, as we’ve argued many times before. (see video here.)

He then went on to say that the Fairness Doctrine “will be intertwined with the net neutrality debate” (net neutrality was the primary focus of his remarks at the Heritage briefing).  Referring to concerns of regulation supporters — including what he called “a few isolated conservatives” that large corporations will censor their content, he said the “bigger concern should be if you have government dictating content policy.”

Most of the coverage of McDowell’s remarks interpreted McDowell as saying that the Fairness Doctrine itself might be extended to blogs (i.e, the Drudge headline: “Return of ‘Fairness Doctrine’ Could Control Web Content…”).  Such a direct extension of the old broadcast-only fairness rules is unlikely though.   Instead, McDowell I think was raising the danger that net neutrality regulation could be the source of such web content controls.

That same danger was raised last year by Adam Thierer, who argued in a Progress and Freedom Foundation paper that net neutrality regulation was in fact “a fairness doctrine for the Internet.” As Adam explained:
“It’s a brilliant tactic by the Left. Why exert all your energy attempting to reimpose “fairness” mandates on broadcasters alone when you can capture them, and much more, by regulating the entire Internet? After all, in a world of media convergence and abundance, bright lines dividing distinct media sectors or their products have vanished. Everything from TV shows to text messages run on multiple networks, making the old, broadcast-oriented Fairness Doctrine a less effective means of reestablishing a liberal media monopoly. So the liberals got smart and came up with the perfect solution: use net neutrality as a backdoor way to impose the Fairness Doctrine on the entire media marketplace.”

Adam’s piece is worth reading.   And Commissioner McDowell — while not receiving gold medal at the rate they are being collected by Michael Phelps — certainly deserves kudos for raising the alarm bells on this aspect of net neutrality.

Previous post:

Next post: