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Lawmakers Call for Prompt Ownership Decisions

Several key Congressmen have urged FCC Chairman Michael Powell to act fast on the media ownership rules now under review-rules the lawmakers suggest they'd be happy to see undergo some major revision.

"In our view, the Commission's ownership restrictions are outdated," said a letter to Powell from eight House members, including Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Strearns (R-Fla.), plus Sens. John Breaux (D-La.), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), John Ensign (R-Nev.) and George Allen (R-Va.). "It is time for the Commission to amend all of its broadcast ownership rules and bring them into alignment with the realities of today's media marketplace."

The Congressmen urge Powell to stick to his previously announced forecast of reaching a decision on the issue by early June.

Not so fast, said speakers at a March 31 hearing in Durham, N.C., that included Democratic
Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein which became a forum for those in favor of retaining the rules.

At the hearing, Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) defended the current 35 percent cap on an owner's nationwide audience reach, a limit that some networks have advocated eliminating completely.

"The cap enhances the effort of local stations and local viewers to control local programming rather than having those decisions made by a handful of corporate network executives in New York or Hollywood," he said. "Lifting the 35 percent ownership cap would be a final and fatal blow to 'localism' and local control. It would silence the voice of local viewers and local communities when those voices are at odds with the interests of the national networks."