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Diversity index could mean rule delay

If chairman Michael Powell didn't have enough to think about with Congress, essentially the Federal Communications Commission's boss, pulling in opposite directions on the media-ownership issue, his diversity-index idea could prove to be a procedural sticking point, as well.

At least that is the suggestion of a team of Legg Mason Inc. analysts headed by former FCC senior staffer Blair Levin.

If the new index -- to be used to help determine what media combinations are allowable -- is judged to require a new round of public comment, it could delay the rules another three to six months.

The analysts don't believe this is likely, but they said it remains a possiblitity. If it happens, they pointed out, that would "alter market expectations about the onset of consolidation generated by likely liberalization of the rules."

Media Bureau chief Ken Ferree doesn't seem to think it would require new comment.

"Recently, there has been a lot of premature speculation about the outcome of the FCC's broadcast-ownership-rules review," he said. "The FCC was very clear in the NPRM [notice of proposed rulemaking] that it was interested in thinking about diversity in a more accurate way than the commission had in the past. The concept of a diversity index is simply a more sophisticated way to analyze data that is in our record -- it doesn't tell you what the rule should be."