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NAB to FCC: Current Ownership Rules Put Broadcasters at ‘Severe Disadvantage’

WASHINGTON: The FCC needs to adopt more significant ownership reforms than current proposals, the National Association of Broadcasters told the FCC this week.

The association made its comments in response to the FCC’s quadrennial review of ownership rules. Specifically the NAB wants the commission to repeal or relax its ownerships rules to promote the commission’s goals of competition, diversity and localism.

“The rules under review here distort competition in the marketplace and place broadcasters at a severe disadvantage,” the NAB told the FCC. “The rules limit broadcasters’ ability to respond to market forces, as cable, satellite and Internet-based media outlets proliferate and compete for audiences and advertising revenues without comparable restrictions. As a result of the market imbalance created by the rules, many broadcast stations struggle to maintain their economic vibrancy and a strong presence in local communities.”

The NAB asked the commission to relax local television ownership rules to permit duopolies more freely in all market sizes, citing competitive pressure in small to medium markets that has led to smaller audience share and reduced advertising revenues. “Relaxation of the duopoly rule will enhance stations’ abilities to cope with these changes, maintain their competitive standing and permit them to continue serving their local audiences, the NAB said. The association also asked that duopoly rules should not be altered in such a way to diminish “the public benefits of multicasting,” saying such services foster the FCC’s goals of diversity and enhanced services.

Newspaper/broadcast cross ownership rules should be scrapped, the NAB said, because there is no evidence that any communities have been harmed by common ownership of the two media. Increased cross ownership actually helps local media outlets enhance their news production capabilities, thereby helping communities, the NAB told the commission.

The NAB also urged the commission to avoid further regulation (“attribution”) of sharing agreements, which the association said “advance the FCC’s localism and diversity goals by facilitating the provision of local news and other programming.” NAB also said the FCC should not connect sharing agreements with retransmission negotiations. “Such negotiations are irrelevant to the attribution regime because they do not implicate a station’s core operating functions and, in any event, are the subject of another pending Commission proceeding.

In addition to its FCC comments, the NAB has also asked the Supreme Court to review station ownership limits.

NAB’s comments in full are available here; the FCC’s NPRM is available here.