FCC votes 3-2 to loosen media rules

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The Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to dramatically loosen rules that restrict ownership of broadcast outlets.

The vote followed "the most comprehensive review of media ownership regulation in the agency's history, spanning 20 months and encompassing a public record of more than 520,000 comments," according to the agency. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the FCC to conduct a biennial rule review, repealing or modifying any regulation it determines to be no longer in the public interest.

The rules were approved 3-2 with the two Democratic commissioners strongly dissenting. Here's what they decided:

Dual network ownership (originally adopted 1946): Commissioners opted to retain a ban on any merger between any of the top national broadcast networks.

Local television ownership limits (originally adopted in 1964): Commissioners dramatically loosened the number of stations an entity can own in a single market. Prior to the ruling, a company could own two stations only if one of the two is not rated in the top four, and there were a total of at least eight independent stations remaining post-merger. Under the new rule:

  • In markets with as few as five stations may own two of them, but only one can be among the top four in ratings.
  • In markets with 18 or more stations, a company can own three, but only one of these stations can be among the top four in ratings.
  • In markets with 11 or fewer television stations, the FCC will allow two of the top four stations to merge subject to review.

National television ownership cap (originally adopted in 1941): As expected, the FCC increased the 35 percent national television station ownership limit and will now allow any network to own a group of stations that reach up to 45 percent of the national audience. In addition, the FCC decided to maintain the "UHF Discount," which counts only half the audience of low-power UHF stations in the total calculation of the national limit. The commission will phase out the rule as more televisions convert to digital technology.

Local radio ownership limit (originally adopted in 1941): The commission voted to keep current limitations on radio ownership in place, but opted to change the methodology for determining radio markets. The change in market definition is expected to reduce the number of stations a company may own in a geographic area.

Cross-ownership limits: Prior to the June 2 decision, the FCC banned companies from owning a television station and newspaper in a single market or a radio and television station in a single market. The commission voted to eliminate the ban in markets with nine or more television stations.

Voting in favor were commission chairman Michael Powell, commissioners Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin. Opposed were commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. For a copy of the statements of each of the commissioners, please go to www.fcc.gov.

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