THEN: Much of the FCCs actions 20 years ago centered on the Fairness Doctrine. According to an archive article from Time magazine, the agency contended that government regulation had a chilling effect on TV and discouraged the free discussion of public issues.
NOW: The FCC spent much of 2006 embroiled in megamerger debates and deregulation spats. Those issues had waned by the end of the year as a Democratically controlled Congress prepared to take power in January and some insiders said FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin would spend more time testifying before committees, justifying the agencys previous decisions.
THEN: There were two FCC chairmen in 1987. The first was Mark S. Fowler, a Republican appointed by President Reagan who had a reputation for stirring antagonism among Democrats, as well as his own party. Fowler championed deregulation for telecommunications and the airwaves. He was most well-known for his disdain for the Fairness Doctrine, or the idea that broadcasters have inherent social obligations to ensure democratic discourse. Fowler left the FCC in mid-1987. His successor was long-time commissioner Dennis R. Patrick, who also was a Republican and was regarded as an ideological relative of Fowler. He was a staunch supporter of broadcast deregulation and served as chairman until Aug. 7, 1989.
NOW: Kevin J. Martin has ruled the roost since early 2005 and was confirmed for a second term in November 2006. He has a reputation as a consensus builder, a skill honed when he was the lone Republican working with two Democratic commissioners. Martin now has a full complement of decision makers and a Republican majority. Industry watchers widely have speculated Martin will tackle intercarrier compensation and Universal Service Fund reform throughout 2007, although little progress is expected given the enormity of the tasks.
THEN: When it came to telecommunications, the 100th Congress concerned itself with attempts at FCC oversight, management of Bell company rules post-divestiture and social issues, such as ensuring the participation of women and minorities in the communications industry. No major bills were passed. Some of the more prominent ones included a proposal to establish a fund with which to pay local exchange common carriers providing lifeline phone service; an effort to let phone providers offer cable programming; a plan to expand telecom services to target hearing- and speech-impaired users; and a bid to allow the Bells to provide information services and make telecom equipment.
NOW: The intent of the 110th Congress was not entirely clear as Democrats took control of the House and Senate. The key issues rumored to be on Democrats minds (although communications policy was not expected to be foremost on their agendas) were net neutrality, consumer privacy and FCC accountability (See related story on Page 42).
THEN: Twenty years ago, John Dingell, D-Mich., chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees telecom. Just a few years after the breakup of Ma Bell, lawmakers like Dingell were going back and forth over deregulation issues and puzzling over the Fairness Doctrine.
NOW: After a 12-year hiatus, he resumes his position as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2007. Today, Dingell is a staunch supporter of net neutrality and rumor has it he intends to tackle the issue in ways not likely to please the Bells in 2007, now that Democrats control Congress.
THEN: In 1987, Iowa Republican Thomas J. Tauke was nearing the end of a 12-year career in the House of Representatives where he also served as a key member of the Telecommunications Subcommittee.
NOW: Today, he is senior vice president of government relations for Verizon, which he came to via NYNEX. He has been a vocal proponent of a federal video franchising law for telcos and an opponent of net neutrality regulations.
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