The FCC has begun soliciting public comments as part of a review and possible revision of its media ownership rules. The regulations set limits on the ownership of multiple television and radio stations and newspapers in a single commercial market.
The commission said its review, which by law takes place every four years, would focus on whether the current rules promote the agency’s goals of competition, localism and diversity. The ownership rules have been the subject of fierce debate in each of the two previous reviews under the Bush administration, drawing the ire of cable television companies, public interest groups and members of Congress.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission is seeking feedback that would “help ensure that our media ownership rules continue to protect consumer interests in today’s marketplace.”
The FCC is still awaiting a federal appeals court ruling on the steps it took after the last review. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is considering an appeal of the FCC’s decision in 2007 to relax its ban on cross ownership of a daily newspaper and a television station in the same market.
At the same time, the commission tightened the reins on the cable television industry, stipulating that no single company could control more than 30 percent of the market. A federal appeals court struck down that rule last August.
In its request for public comments, the FCC said it is seeking opinion on whether its current ownership rules are necessary or in the public interest to promote competition in the media business. However, the commission also noted that it would look closely at the impact of consolidation of ownership on competition in media markets.
Since the 1996 Telecommunications Act was put into effect, the number of commercial radio stations and commercial television stations has increased by 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively. But the number of owners of those media outlets has fallen by more than 30 percent in each case.
The FCC also is seeking opinion on the impact of the Internet on consumers’ use of television and radio, as well as their ability to gain access to sources of news. As newspaper circulation has declined, the agency noted in its release, the number of people who say they get news online has increased. The commission noted that 20 of the 25 most-visited news websites share corporate owners with other television or newspaper companies.