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Powell on Media Consolidation: Don't Sweat It

FCC Chairman Michael Powell told a Senate panel that some of their fears of rampant media consolidation were unfounded, and he urged lawmakers to be skeptical of the "melodramatic version" of what might happen after the FCC revises several media ownership rules this spring.

But he also said he shared some of their concerns and noted that new rules would have to be defensible in court.

The comments came as all five FCC commissioners faced the Senate Commerce Committee in a hearing Jan. 14 on competition in the telecommunications industry. Most of the discussion focused on telephone issues, but senators of both parties voiced concern over fewer and fewer owners controlling the media landscape.

Five major ownership regulations are under a Congressionally mandated review by the FCC, including the nationwide TV station ownership cap, newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership limits and local duopoly rules.

From Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), the panel urged the commission to proceed carefully on any relaxation of the rules.

"It seems to me there's a very real possibility that what the commission is going to do is shift policy so one company can own everything in town," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "Today's telecommunications policy has got to be seen through the consumer prism."

Commissioner Michael Copps was not comforted by Powell's assurances. "I hope you will sweat it," he said. "I don't think we're being melodramatic."