FCC’s Adelstein finds “anomaly” in new media ownership rules

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a Democratic opponent to the FCC’s new media ownership rules, has called on the commission to fix an anomaly that allows greater concentration in small markets.

“In an apparent blunder, the FCC’s new rules count Minot, N.D., as if it had more TV stations than Detroit,” Adelstein said. “Many small markets are now considered among the largest in the country. I’m asking my colleagues to reconsider the rule changes so we can fix this anomaly before new mergers take place that let a single owner dominate the media in many smaller towns.”

The new rules count each noncommercial TV station as a separate station even if they repeat the same broadcast across a state, said Adelstein. Many sparsely populated but geographically large TV markets like the Dakotas have statewide public broadcasting systems that repeat the same signal over several transmitters across the state. They are over-counted under the new rules, exposing more communities to media consolidation than ever intended, he said.

Until June 2nd, the FCC’s local television and cross-ownership rules required a certain number of independent voices remaining in the market. Stations with common ownership and duplicative programming, whether commercial or noncommercial, were not counted as independent voices under the old system. The new rules no longer require independent voices, but are triggered by the total number of TV stations in the designated market area (DMA).

For commercial stations, the new rules exclude stations designated as “satellites” by the FCC, which have a common owner and duplicate the programming of another station. Noncommercial stations have no reason to apply for satellite status so none have that designation. Even if many are functionally equivalent to satellite stations, they are nevertheless counted as unique voices, or separate stations, under the new rules.

For example, said Adelstein, under the new rules, Sioux Falls, S.D., is counted as having six separate noncommercial stations, even though five of the six are run by the statewide South Dakota Public TV network, and each broadcasts the exact same programming. It also has five commercial stations. So Sioux Falls, the 112th largest DMA by population, is counted as having 11 stations, or more than Detroit, the 10th largest DMA, with only nine stations.

Minot, N.D., the 155th largest DMA, which has only four commercial TV stations, is also treated as larger than Detroit, which has twice as many commercial TV stations as Minot. This is because Minot has six noncommercial stations that are part of statewide public broadcasting networks. So like Sioux Falls, Minot is considered bigger than or on par with more populous areas like Baltimore, San Diego, Las Vegas and New Orleans.

Several TV markets are skewed by this oversight, including markets in Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, New York and Vermont, Adelstein said. In each of these cases, the FCC’s treatment of duplicative noncommercial stations makes a community larger in a way that permits greater media concentration than would otherwise be allowed.

For more information visit www.fcc.gov.

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