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Deregulating Airwaves Draws Democratic Fire

CONSUMER groups are assailing a plan by a think tank linked to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia that would give telecommunications companies more control over the airwaves and the public less say in how they are used. The Progress and Freedom Foundation on Tuesday recommended letting federal courts and state regulators handle most of the Federal Communications Commission's duties and replacing the FCC with an agency possessing far less power.

Unlike the FCC, the replacement agency would have no responsibility to protect the ''public interest'' -- the bedrock of a 61-year-old communications law that says the airwaves belong to the public.

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Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts, a key maker of telecommunications policy, said, ''This proposal is simply unrealistic and naive.''

The broadcasting industry still sees a need for a central agency to control, for example, whether TV stations should be allowed to increase their power, said Lynn McReynolds of the National Association of Broadcasters.

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