Washington Notes: FCC to Revisit Media Ownership

Jun 26, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission voted last Wednesday to restart its review of restrictions on media ownership, two years after an earlier attempt to loosen the rules failed.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin called the work a “vital process” concerning important issues. He promised the agency would approach the issue differently than it did last time, when a court blocked changes in the rules. He said the commission “should take into account the competitive realities of the media marketplace” while also striving to meet diversity goals.

Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein voted against parts of the FCC’s decision to re-examine the media ownership rules. They said that the FCC this time needs to weigh more carefully the impact of any changes on the number of different media voices available to local viewers and listeners, and that the agency should commit to giving the public a chance to comment again once a specific proposal is offered.

The FCC’s next rewrite of media ownership rules will determine how many media outlets a company can own in a single market. Media conglomerates such as Tribune have argued that ownership of multiple television stations, radio broadcasters, cable providers and newspapers in the same city helps them compete. Opponents say such concentration mutes diverse voices in the media.

Consumer groups, which started out slow last time but eventually generated a record-breaking number of comments to the FCC, claim they will start out much stronger this time. They have launched both a lobbying effort aimed directly at Capitol Hill and a grass-roots effort aimed consumers.

One grass-roots effort from Consumers Union featuring a song and animation warning to “Resist the Tower! Fight Media Power!” was posted on hearusnow.org.

Senator Delays Franchise Battle

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said last week that a bill that would ease the way for phone companies to get into the pay TV business may be in danger if unrelated provisions on Internet regulation are attached.

Sen. Stevens, R-Alaska, on Thursday postponed until Tuesday a committee battle over the bill that would help phone companies enter the TV business by loosening franchise restrictions. After delaying consideration of that bill, Mr. Stevens said Republicans would oppose any legislation containing so-called net neutrality language, which seeks to prevent phone and Internet providers from charging Web content companies different rates for different levels of service. The House last week rejected net neutrality legislation.