Broadcast industry could be in for more deregulation
San Antonio Business Journal – March 3, 2006
by W. Scott Bailey
Some of the same critics who blasted the Telecommunications Act of 1996 for creating widespread consolidation and delocalization in the broadcast industry say certain forces are back again 10 years later, quietly calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide additional deregulatory relief.
If successful, they warn, companies like San Antonio's Clear Channel Communications Inc. could wind up owning even more radio stations in some of the nation's larger markets. They could also acquire major newspapers in markets where they already own a radio or television station.
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., is urging the FCC to move quickly in raising the limit on the number of radio stations broadcast companies can own in some markets. Upton chairs the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet.
Fellow Congressman Joe Barton, R-Texas, is also expected to push for certain rewrites to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Barton chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, whose jurisdiction extends over five cabinet-level departments and seven independent agencies — including the FCC.
In addition to federal lawmakers, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is also calling on the FCC to further deregulate the industry. One of the restrictions NAB would like to see lifted is the cross-ownership rule prohibiting broadcast companies from owning a major newspaper in the same market where they also own at least one radio or television station.
In a letter sent from NAB President and CEO David Rehr to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Rehr writes: "As the commission approaches its next review of the broadcast ownership rules, NAB wants to emphasize the importance of reforming these broadcast-only restrictions."
Rehr says those restrictions "impair local broadcasters' ability to compete in a digital, multichannel marketplace."
Some are not as eager as others to see the FCC make more changes. Critics who opposed previous deregulation argue that some of the rule changes have only served to violate important parts of the Communications Act of 1934 requiring broadcasters to operate in the public's best interest.
"We're strongly opposed," says Craig Aaron, spokesman for Free Press, a national nonpartisan organization focused on public participation in media policy issues. "We feel (consolidation) has already gone too far and the vast majority of the American people feel the same."
Aaron says the FCC could move on these possible rules changes as soon as April."
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