The Commission has initiated a top-to-bottom review of the broadcast ownership restrictions covering both the local and national ownership caps for all broadcast facilities. The current duopoly restrictions for TV, as well as the newspaper/TV and radio/TV cross-ownership rules, are in play.
The comment and reply comment deadlines were not announced when the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was first released. Instead, those deadlines were to be established upon the release of 12 studies commissioned by the FCC to review the various aspects related to the broadcasting industry. Those studies have since been released, and the Commission established Jan. 2, 2003, as the comment deadline, and Feb. 3, 2003, as the deadline for replies. Links to these studies can be found on the FCC's Web site at www.fcc.gov/ownership/studies.html.
The TV-related studies reached several conclusions pertinent to the FCC's proceeding:
- There is little substitutability between radio, television and newspaper advertising; thus, local businesses will not easily move among the three when faced with increased advertising rates.
- On the other hand, there is evidence of substitutability of daily newspapers, radio and cable, and broadcast TV with respect to news consumption.
- Consumers will substitute among radio, television, newspapers and the Internet for the source of programming, with the greatest substitutability being between: Internet and broadcast television; broadcast television and cable television; cable television and daily newspapers; radio and broadcast television; and the Internet and daily newspapers.
- In 10 surveyed markets, the number of media outlets (radio, TV, newspapers, cable and DBS) had increased by 195 percent since 1960, and the number of independent owners had increased by 139 percent.
- Of 10 commonly owned newspaper-TV combinations, five exhibited a similar slant in covering the final weeks of the 2000 presidential election, while five exhibited divergent slants.
- TV stations owned and operated by one of the networks produced substantially more local news and public affairs programming as compared to non-O&O network affiliates.
There have been media reports of complaints from certain trade groups that these studies were intentionally slanted to support the deregulatory agenda which FCC Chairman Powell is thought by some to embrace. Indeed, Commissioner Copps criticized the studies as “bare-bones,” and requested that the Commission hold “town hall” meetings to obtain direct public comment.
The Commission is committed to resolve this proceeding by May or June.
The FCC recently announced that in the past fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2001, to Sept. 30, 2002) the agency fined companies more than $28 million. The chief of the FCC's enforcement division claimed that enforcement actions are aimed at benefiting consumers, but that did not stop him from announcing the multimillion-dollar fine total. Among the most frequently cited, and expensive, rule violations involve tower painting and lighting. Here are some recent cases:
- The FCC collected $105,000 from a North Carolina company for failing to properly paint, light and mark several towers. Although the original forfeiture notice cited all of the company's towers, the company responded by proving to the FCC that, under its rules, one of the towers in question did not require any painting, lighting and marking. The Commission accepted this, but that shaved a mere $6,000 from the overall fine.
- An FCC agent visited a station to advise the licensee of painting, lighting and marking violations, but was told that the towers were less than 200 feet high and, therefore, exempt from such requirements. Skeptical, the agent returned, measured the towers and determined that they were 230 feet high. Soon thereafter the station received notice of a $15,000 fine.
Harry C. Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC, Arlington, VA.
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Issues and programs lists for the fourth quarter must be placed in the public file by Jan. 10. Children's television reports for the fourth quarter (Form 398) must be electronically filed with the FCC, also by Jan. 10. The DTV on-air deadline for noncommercial stations is May 1, 2003.