This morning, FMC staff attended an "Open Agenda" meeting at the Federal Communications Commission that outlined steps the agency would take to expand broadband, determine competition in the video marketplace and collect data on female and minority ownership among broadcast station owners.
If there was one theme to emerge from the meeting, it was the need for the agency to do a better job of collecting and analyzing data on the industries it's charged with regulating. (This is something many public interest groups — including FMC —have been saying for years.)
"If we're to be a data-driven agency, we need to do a better job of collecting the data," said acting Chairman Michael J. Copps. "Right now, we don't have a clue." He described the past several years at the agency as "a period of benign — or to some, not so benign — neglect," stating that timely and efficient data collection is crucial to effective policy.
Members of the FCC leadership often speak publicly about the agency's commitment to promoting "localism, competition and diversity" on the public airwaves, so it was good to hear Copps describe how the FCC could add meat to those worthy bones. Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein echoed this sentiment, saying that better methods of data collection and analysis is "someting I've been begging for for years."
The Commissioners were speaking specifically about a national strategy for getting affordable broadband to more Americans, and the need to ensure diversity in the broadcast media landscape. But we at FMC think it applies to music, too, which is why we've spent so much time examining the nuts and bolts of the commercial radio marketplace to determine whether it serves communities, artists and the listening public.
Having observed trends in terrestrial radio since the turn of the millennium, we realize two things: a) consolidation in station ownership after the 1996 Telecommunications Act has led to a loss of independent owners and local control over programming decisions at commercial stations, and b) pay-for-play schemes like payola have made it incredibly difficult for non-major label talent to score commercial radio play. (For more info, check out these FMC research reports, past and present: Radio Deregulation: Has It Served Citizens and Musicians?, False Premises, False Promises: A Quantitative History of Ownership Consolidation in the Radio Industry, the Payola Education Guide and "More Static: Independent Labels and Commercial Airplay.")
We also understand the importance of quality information to the agency responsible for overseeing the broadcast industry. Without it, there's really no way to measure the effects of public policy. Groups like FMC do our best to fill in the gaps — our anticipated playlist tracking report that looks at indie spins on commercial radio comes out on April 20 — but there's no replacement for having an independent agency like the FCC collect and anylyze their own data. We hope today's meeting is a step in that direction.
As Copps himself said today, "We can't make fact-based decisions without timely, reliable data." In other words, data rocks.