FCC Commissioner Warns Fairness Doctrine Might Involve Control of Web

If the idea of the Fairness Doctrine bringing government control of broadcasted speech wasn't bad enough, there's also a possibility that its oversight powers could spill over onto the Internet and control Web content.

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell raised that possibility after talking with bloggers at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. on August 12. McDowell spoke about a recent FCC 3-2 vote to bar Comcast from engaging in certain Internet practices - expanding the federal agency's oversight of Internet networks. McDowell was one of the two dissenting votes.

He told the Business & Media Institute there's a possibility the next Congress and administration might attempt to package the renewal of the Fairness Doctrine with net neutrality regulation.

"I think the fear is that somehow large corporations will censor their content, their points of view," McDowell said, suggesting some conservatives might support net neutrality legislation based on corporate censorship fears. "I think the bigger concern for them should be if you have government dictating content policy, which by the way would have a big First Amendment problem."

"Then, whoever is in charge of government is going to determine what is fair, under a so-called ‘Fairness Doctrine,' which won't be called that - it'll be called something else," McDowell said. "So, will Web sites, will bloggers have to give equal time or equal space on their Web site to opposing views rather than letting the marketplace of ideas determine that?"

McDowell, a 2006 Bush appointee, also told BMI the Fairness Doctrine isn't currently on the FCC's radar. But a new administration and Congress elected in 2008 might renew Fairness Doctrine efforts, but under another name.

"The Fairness Doctrine has not been raised at the FCC, but the importance of this election is in part - has something to do with that," McDowell said. "So you know, this election, if it goes one way, we could see a re-imposition of the Fairness Doctrine. There is a discussion of it in Congress. I think it won't be called the Fairness Doctrine by folks who are promoting it. I think it will be called something else and I think it'll be intertwined into the net neutrality debate."