Michael Joseph Copps (born April 23, 1940) is a Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent agency of the United States government. He has served as one of the commissioners of the FCC since May 31, 2001, and took on the additional role of acting chairman on January 20, 2009. He relinquished the chairmanship to Julius Genachowski after Genachowski was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 25 and then sworn in on June 29, 2009.
Copps was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was a professor of history at Loyola University New Orleans, from 1967 to 1970. He obtained his B.A. from Wofford College in 1963, where he was elected to Pi Gamma Mu and to Phi Beta Kappa. He completed his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1968. He served as chief of staff to Senator Ernest Hollings for almost 12 years before his appointment to the United States Commerce Department as assistant secretary.
In 2003, when then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell proposed loosening FCC regulations on media ownership, Copps made plain his strong opposition to media consolidation. In his dissenting statement from the FCC decision to loosen media ownership rules (which was later successfully challenged in court), Copps wrote:
"The majority instead chooses radical deregulation - perhaps not quite so radical as originally intended a year ago before so much pressure was brought to bear upon them - but radical nevertheless. This decision allows a corporation to control three television stations in a single city. Why does any corporate interest need to own three stations in any city, other than to enjoy the 40-50 percent profit margins most consolidated stations are racking up? What public interest, what diversity, does that serve? This decision also allows the giant media companies to buy up the remaining local newspaper and exert massive influence over some communities by wielding three TV stations, eight radio stations, the cable operator, and the already monopolistic newspaper. What public interest, what new competition, is enabled by encouraging the newspaper monopoly and the broadcasting oligopoly to combine? This decision further allows the already massive television networks to buy up even more local TV stations, so that they control up to an unbelievable 80 or 90 percent of the national television audience. Where are the blessings of localism, diversity and competition here? I see centralization, not localism; I see uniformity, not diversity; I see monopoly and oligopoly, not competition."
"Copps' ability to distill the complexities of media ownership into plain English and fire up crowds like a revivalist preacher helped derail an industry push in 2003 to loosen restrictions on owning broadcast stations," according to the Los Angeles Times. Copps prioritized informing public audiences about the media ownership debate:
Copps is one of the few former Capitol Hill staffers to serve on the FCC, and his experience in that crucible of partisan politics came into play when Powell began pushing for an overhaul of media ownership rules in 2001. Copps decided the public needed to know the stakes and reached out to consumer and public interest advocates.
Copps wanted the FCC to hold a series of public hearings, but Powell agreed to only one. So Copps tapped his own travel budget. Copps and fellow Democrat Jonathan S. Adelstein, who joined the FCC in late 2002, hit the road, participating in 13 unofficial hearings.
At a November 9, 2007 hearing in Seattle on a proposal by FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin to relax rules on newspaper and television ownership, Copps said," Over 70% (of Americans) say consolidation has gone too far, and almost six people in 10 want Congress to pass a law outlawing newspaper-television combinations in local markets! And this percentage is almost exactly alike whether you are a Republican, Democrat or Independent."
Copps urged attendees of the 2003 National Conference on Media Reform, which was organized by Free Press, to weigh in on media policy issues:
"Talk it up amongst their family, talk it up amongst their friends, use the media that you can have some access to and is willing to do something about it: talk radio if you can but also letters to the editor. Something that's very important is the Internet -- I've seen the power of the Internet to alter the terms of public debate -- and we've seen it right here on this issue already. So I think what the bloggers need to do is stay involved."