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Broadcasters, Reunite!

Editor: There is an urgent need for a reunited broadcasting industry to cope with upcoming critical issues. All broadcasters should heed the admonition this week of FCC Chairman Michael Powell: "There is no guarantee the nation's telecommunications giants will still be in business 15 years from now." Without that guarantee, broadcasters must work together to exploit new technology, maintain their universal service and their own financial solvency.

On the united broadcasting agenda: The digital transition, including must-carry for all free broadcast services; more duopoly relief for small and middle market TV; relaxation of restrictions on newspaper, radio, TV crossownership in all markets; threats to First Amendment rights of broadcasters, including the return of the outmoded fairness doctrine; efforts to undermine renewal expectancy of broadcast licenses; calls for more programming reports and logging requirements; copyright protection; exclusive geographical programming areas; piracy; and maintaining legislative and regulatory parity with cable, satellite and even Internet competitors.

The broadcasting industry has split in two parts over the 35% cap on the audience reach of TV station groups. The networks want to raise the cap. The affiliates and the NAB like it just as it is. As a result, all four of the networks have quit the NAB.

Personally, I maintained a neutral position on this controversy, but I don't believe the FCC's decision to raise the cap to 45% represented a deregulatory Armageddon. And early efforts by the NAB to restore the 35% cap through legislation attracted several ultra-liberal allies traditionally opposed to industry and to the free-enterprise system. Some represented the extreme over the public mainstream.

The cap is an important issue. But overall, broadcasters have bigger fish to fry in the complex digital and technological future. This 23-year FCC veteran of many regulatory and legislative battles now believes there is an urgent need for broadcast reunification. The networks must return to the NAB. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and aggressive NAB board members must consider the network cap issue a tough family fight, but all stay in the family.

Reunite! Return to the days when the NAB, with a solid broadcast front, was considered the most influential and fair-minded government relations organization in Washington, able to gain well-earned recognition and support for the many positive and essential broadcast services performed.

So, God bless the affiliated stations, the NAB, the networks and the group-owned stations and grant them the wisdom to form a more perfect union.

James Quello, former FCC commissioner and interim chairman, Washington