FCC Begins Ownership Review

The Federal Communications Commission teed up its quadrennial review of the nation’s media ownership rules.

The notice of inquiry asks for input on a number of issues such as whether the current rules foster competition, localism and diversity; and how to determine if the current rules serve the public interest. Comments are due in 30 days; comments must be received in 45 days.

“The commission is committed to fostering a strong and independent broadcast media that provides Americans with multiple and diverse sources of news, public affairs and entertainment programming. The input we seek in this proceeding will help ensure that our media ownership rules continue to protect consumer interests in today’s marketplace,” said Julius Genachowski (pictured), chairman of the FCC.

Debate over the rules is likely to split along familiar lines. Broadcasters are looking for less regulation, consumer interest groups want more. To complicate the review, the FCC is also in the process of reviewing Comcast’s deal to control 51 percent of NBC Universal, a transaction unprecedented in size and scope.

Taking aim at previous reviews that resulted in some relaxation of the rules, specifically the easing of the cross-ownership ban, commissioner Michael Copps took aim. In a statement, Copps noted that since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, there has been a 39 percent decrease in the number of commercial radio station owners and a 33 percent decrease in the number of TV station owners. He called the numbers of minority-owned broadcasters “appalling.”

Commissioner Robert McDowell took the opposite view, arguing that past rules have been “burdensome” and could impede the ability of broadcasters and newspapers to compete in a digital arena. “It is not at all clear…that relaxation or elimination of the existing rules necessarily will lead to a major wave of ownership consolidation,” McDowell said.