November 25, 1997
Re: In the Matter of Implementation of Section 309(j) of the Communications Act -- Competitive Bidding for Commercial Broadcast and Instructional Fixed Television Service Licenses (MM Docket No. 97-234), Reexamination of the Policy Statement on Comparative Broadcast Hearings (GC Docket No. 92- 52), and Proposals to Reform the Commission's Comparative Hearing Process to Expedite the Resolution of Cases (GEN Docket No. 90-264).I support today's action to implement the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 by proposing rules for auctions to resolve initial broadcast license proceedings involving mutually exclusive applications filed after June 30, 1997. I believe that the auction rules proposed in the Notice faithfully reflect the Balanced Budget Act's amendments to Section 309 of the Communications Act and will ensure an expeditious resolution of mutually exclusive application proceedings.
At the same time, however, I believe it is important for the Commission to promulgate rules that meet all of its obligations under Section 309. In particular, Section 309(j)(4)(D), which was unaffected by the Balanced Budget Act, directs the Commission to promulgate auction rules that ensure that small businesses, rural telephone companies and businesses owned by minority groups and women are given the opportunity to participate in the provision of spectrum- based services. This provision is in keeping with Congress' and the Commission's longstanding commitment to promoting minority ownership of mass media outlets. I too am firmly committed to advancing that goal because, among other reasons, I believe that diversity of ownership is one of the best ways to ensure that all points of view are heard in the vital public debates that take place over our public airwaves. In this regard, I am deeply concerned that minority ownership of broadcast stations has declined from 3.07 percent in 1995 to 2.81 percent in 1996-97. I will be especially interested in reviewing proposals designed to reverse this trend, as well as proposals designed to meet the Commission's specific obligations under Section 309(j)(4)(D), in a fair, workable and judicially sustainable manner.
The Notice also proposes rules for resolving the hundreds of pending comparative licensing proceedings that have been stayed by the Commission in the wake of the Bechtel II decision. I believe that the Commission should make every effort to resolve these cases -- many of which have been pending for several years -- as quickly as possible. That is why I am prepared to join in the tentative conclusion that auctions may be the best way to resolve this limited set of cases. I wish to stress, however, that I am open to proposals to use comparative criteria for some or all of these pending cases. Although comparative hearings may not dispose of such cases as quickly as auctions, I believe that certain equities or other public interest considerations may be involved that would make it inappropriate to subject them to competitive bidding.