FCC Officially Launches Media Ownership Review

WASHINGTON: The FCC today released a Notice of Inquiry as part of the 2010 quadrennial review of its media ownership rules. The NOI comes as regulators consider the majority acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast, the first time a cable provider would control a major broadcast network. The FCC most recently tapped John Flynn, formerly of ICO Global Communications, as chief adviser on the $8 billion deal, announced last December.

The FCC’s media ownership notice initiates a query to determine whether current rules promote “competition, localism, and diversity,” the commission said. The NOI asks for input on several issues, including whether the aforementioned items are promoted by current law and how these concepts can be measured.

The FCC also seeks feedback on how ownership structures affect competition, localism and diversity. The NOI asks how to consider public interest goals that may conflict with one another, and whether the commission should adopt “bright-line rules,” or one that uses a case-by-case approach. It also asks for comment on the cost and benefits of outlet-specific rules.

Veteran FCC commissioner Michael Copps is a long-time critic of media consolidation and has repeatedly called for greater localism.

“Based on staff analysis as laid out in the Notice of Inquiry, there has been a 39 percent decrease in the number of commercial radio station owners between 1996 and 2010. In addition, we have seen a 33 percent decrease in the number of television station owners over that same time period,” he said in his statement. “It is difficult to fully quantify the harmful effects that media consolidation has had on the news, information and entertainment we receive. Fewer and fewer voices do not an informed electorate and robust democracy make.”

His Republican colleague, Robert McDowell, noted that economics and the impact of the Internet drive consolidation. The FCC’s current media ownership rules do not factor in the Internet.

“The commission has known since at least the time of its 2002 ownership review that the Internet would have a profound effect on the media landscape, yet for various reasons the agency has been unable to fully adapt its regulations to the new realities,” McDowell wrote. “This time, I hope, we will get it right. Burdensome rules that have remained essentially intact for more than a decade should not be allowed to continue impeding, or potentially impeding, the ability of broadcasters and newspapers to survive and thrive in the digital era.”

Relaxing or eliminating current rules did not guarantee “a major wave of ownership consolidation,” he said.
-- Deborah D. McAdams

(Image of NBCU’s Los Angeles Offices by Andy H.)