FCC chairman suggests revisiting cable ownership

Now being forced to re-examine media ownership rules under an aggressive Democrat Congress, Republican FCC chairman Kevin Martin suggested last week that the commission needed to finish an old, but unfinished, review of cable ownership rules.

At a news conference last week, Martin didn’t announce anything specific, but suggested it was time to revisit the cable ownership proceeding that had been stalled since 2002. As a possibility, he even suggested the cable ownership rules be rolled together with the current study that includes terrestrial broadcasters.

In 1992, Congress directed the FCC to establish limits on the number of subscribers a cable operator may serve. It also ordered a limit put on the number of channels an operator could devote to programming with an affiliated company.

The FCC blocked cable operators from having more than a 30 percent share of nationwide cable and satellite viewers and required operators to devote up to 40 percent of their channel space to non-affiliated programming. Operators with more than 75 channels had to devote 45 percent to non-affiliated programming.

AT&T (the company named that at the time) and Time Warner challenged the rules in court, subsequently voided by a three-judge panel. The judges said the commission had not justified the limitations.

The FCC has never acted on the rewrite of the rules under the 2002 court order.