Commissioner McDowell Speaks on Minority Media Ownership, Advertising Discrimination, Spectrum, and the Universal Service Fund

by Jacqueline Clary on August 16, 2011

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who has served on the Commission since 2006, is a champion of policies that promote consumer choice and innovation through increased competition. The Commissioner delivered insightful remarks last month at MMTC’s Access to Capital and Telecommunications Policy Conference – he discussed an array of subjects ranging from his motivation for championing advertising nondiscrimination rules to how to promote minority ownership in spectrum repurposing plans.

With respect to championing strong rules against racial advertising discrimination, the Commissioner recalled his shock at learning that this type of discrimination, namely “no urban” and “no Spanish” dictates, even existed. No urban/no Spanish dictates are discriminatory advertising practices that devalue minority audiences by assuming that minorities cannot be persuaded to purchase the advertiser’s product or by attempting to minimize minority customers. MMTC estimates that this type of discrimination costs minority broadcasters about $200 million every year in uncollected revenue.

During his remarks at a 2009 OCBO workshop on capitalization strategies for small, women-, and minority-owned businesses, Commissioner McDowell stated, “The Diversity Order was all the more historic because it adopted the first federal civil rights rule in more than a generation: The ban on ‘no urban, no Hispanic’ dictates in advertising. I was proud to have worked closely with my colleagues, especially Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, in fashioning that rule.” More recently, Commissioner McDowell attended a meeting with Sherman Kizart, Managing Director of Kizart Media Partners, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Chairman and Founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, at the American Association of Advertising Agencies in New York City to continue the discussion about advertising nondiscrimination.

With respect to the FCC’s Advisory Committee for Diversity in the Digital Age, Commissioner McDowell expressed his hope to get the Committee repopulated and back to work as quickly as possible. There is finally momentum on this issue, as the Commission has been slow in reconvening the new Committee since the charter for the previous one ended last December. During the Access to Capital Conference, Edward Lazarus, FCC Chief of Staff, announced that the Commission would send invitations for the next Advisory Committee within the next two weeks.

With respect to the Third Circuit’s recent decision in Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, Commissioner McDowell chastised the Commission’s failure to analyze and create a definition of eligible entities that furthers the goal of diversity measures – increasing minority and women ownership – and gave an overview of the Commission’s next steps. The Commissioner seemed confident that with the court’s clarification, the Commission could use the foundation gained from its previous notice of inquiry on an overcoming disadvantage preference to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) as soon as possible. Commissioner McDowell cautioned that the impact of new media and spectrum reallocation plans should be examined as part of the definition to ensure that ownership opportunities for minority and women entrepreneurs are not limited to areas with less potential growth.

With respect to spectrum repurposing and incentive auctions, the Commissioner hopes to have a successful designated entity program in place for any such plans. He also indicated other means to encourage diversity among auction winners. Speaking generally on placing restrictions on spectrum auctions, Commissioner McDowell warned that we need to be aware of potential unintended consequences.

With respect to the Universal Service Fund, the Commissioner expressed concern that as the vote on the future of the Fund keeps getting pushed back, an opportunity for real reform may slip away. If the delay progresses to the point where new Commissioners are appointed, there will be additional delay to allow the new appointees to review the issues. He warned that we should not allow these opportunities to slip away.

After Commissioner McDowell’s remarks at MMTC’s conference, an audience member expressed grave concerns regarding the exclusion of Native Americans from the media – the audience member stated that John Redcorn, a character on the cartoon “King of the Hill,” is the only Native American on television. He also pointed out the lack of information on Native Americans in major media, telecom, and broadband adoption studies. Commissioner McDowell promised to take these alarming concerns back to the Commission.

Throughout his discussion, Commissioner McDowell remained true to form, listening to commendations and criticism alike and offering practical insight into policy, political realities, and the decision making process.

  • Jacqueline Clary

    Jacqueline Clary is the John W. Jones Fellow at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. In this position, she focuses on a variety of policy issues to advance minority participation in the media and telecommunications industries. Ms. Clary earned her B.A. from John Carroll University, her J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law, and is a member of the New York State Bar.

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  • John_Q_Public

    Commissioner McDowell is one of the most thoughtful regulators to have served on the FCC. He never fails to give each issue its due consideration. He has been a voice of reason on a number of issues. Let’s hope that his vision for broadband is realized in the not-too-distant future.

  • S.W.

    Thank you for this article! McDowell is one of the few people at the FCC who not only understands the various minority issues within the communications sector, but truly wants to do something about it. I hope more people will take his words to heart… and then take real action.

  • Fever

    I, too, was shocked to learn of these “no urban” and “no Spanish” dictates, and I hope the FCC can straighten that out.

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