While the FCC Commissioners are in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania today holding the third of the Commission’s promised six field hearings on multiple ownership, an interesting story was published yesterday, announcing an unofficial "town meeting" of consolidation critics in Columbus, Ohio on March 7. While these unofficial meetings have become a staple of the broadcast landscape, they traditionally feature one or both of the FCC’s Democratic Commissioners. What makes this upcoming hearing unique is that Commissioner McDowell, one of the Republican Commissioners, will also be in attendance.
Perhaps Commissioner McDowell is simply a fan of the ambiance of the Ohio state capital, but his attendance could signal something more. The appearance of a Republican Commissioner at one of these events is rare. Commissioner McDowell has established a bit of a reputation as an independent thinker, holding out from participation in the FCC’s consideration of the AT&T/Bell South merger despite intense pressure from his Republican colleagues to ignore what he perceived as a potential conflict that he had from previous employment, and reportedly showing reluctance to back the Chairman on television multicast must-carry rules. Does his participation at this meeting signal anything on his position on the multiple ownership proceeding other than curiosity and open mindedness on his part? Only time will tell.