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01.13.2003
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
NAB wants status quo on ownership limits



Many towers become heavily loaded after their transformation to DTV.

The NAB and the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance (NASA) are urging the FCC to retain the 35 percent national television ownership cap. Both groups say that their stance is based on evidence that the cap furthers core communications policies such as localism and competition.

The NAB and the NASA claims that two bedrock principles, flowing from the Communications Act itself, together comprise the national policy objective of localism and converge to support the current 35 percent ownership rule. The first is that the broadcast spectrum is to be allocated, allotted and licensed so as to ensure service-oriented to numerous local communities. The second rule's purpose is to confer broadcast licenses on recipients that will carry out the purpose of statutory policy by providing service responsive to the needs and interests of their communities.

Although the two organizations agree that the networks do provide high-quality national programming as an essential component of the local broadcast service, the national TV ownership rule is needed to maintain this balance between national programming excellence and local-community responsiveness.

In addition, NASA advocates retention of the dual network rule because it fosters competition and the emergence of new major networks. The FCC eliminated that part of the dual network rule that prohibited mergers between a major network and emerging networks UPN and The WB. The FCC in its 2001 ruling said that it recognized that the economics of the broadcast television network industry have changed to the point that retention of the rule in its current form is no longer in the public's best interest.

These statements were released primarily because the FCC last September initiated its review of broadcast ownership rules as mandated every other year by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The commission provided 60 days of comments after the mandated studies were released, which occurred late last year.

In a recent speech, FCC commission member Jonathan Adelstein indicated that the elimination of radio station limits in 1996 has not worked out as expected and might need to be modified. He also said that further ownership limit changes should be carefully considered before proceeding.

While many non-networked owned stations are worried about the national penetration of the networks, some non-network MSOs are trying to increase their holdings, or in the case of Sinclair, maintain their holdings, in individual markets. Four groups are urging the FCC to adopt new local-ownership limits for duopolies in small and midsized markets. Duopolies are currently permitted only in markets big enough to allow eight separately owned stations to remain or when one of the stations is failing.

The plan proposed by LIN Television, Raycom Media, Waterman Broadcasting and Montclair Communications, owners of more than 70 stations between them, suggested two options for allowing more duopolies. The first would allow for ownership of two stations in a market as long as at least one independently owned station still remained. The second option would allow a weak station, one with less than 15 percent of the viewers, to be taken over by a stronger competitor. The proposal calls for an even higher threshold to be considered in markets smaller than the top 50. The NAB has proposed a plan that requires the weaker station to have less than a 10 percent share. The Sinclair Broadcast Group has several parings that will have to be divested if the FCC doesn’t relax its duopoly restriction. It urged the agency to eliminate local television limits entirely.

For more information visit www.nab.org.

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