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FCC Ownership Rule Decision Won't Come'Til At LeastQ2 2011

The FCC statutory review of its media ownership rules will not bear fruit until at least March of next year, according to Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake.

In answer to a reporter's question about the FCC's quadrennial review of its rules following a speech at the Media Institute, Lake said it was "a topic of great frustration of mine."

He said that the FCC is still in the process of commissioning "eight or nine" studies, getting the last commission out the door only this week. The FCC said it needed the studies to provide a "bottoms-up review."  He cited an absence of funding and some "contracting difficulties" with not having gotten the last study out the door until this week.

Lake said the studies typically take four months to be completed, then the FCC has to vet them.

"We will try to get a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as soon as we can," he said, "but that has to be after we've seen the result of the studies so we know what the facts are."

The FCC is also currently defending its old media ownership rule change in court. That was the 2007 decision to loosen, rather than lift, the newspaper/broadcast crossownership ban, a move that was taken to court by broadcasters as too little deregulation, and by public interest groups who argued that any more deregulation was too much.

The FCC officially launched the review May 25.

Specifically, the FCC is looking at five rules: the local TV ownership rule, the local radio ownership rule, the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, the radio/TV cross-ownership rule, and the dual-network rule.

The notice made it clear the FCC will take into account the role of the Internet. "The Internet clearly has not wholly supplanted traditional media, such as broadcast stations, newspapers, and cable systems, but it has increased the quantity of news and programming available to consumers."

It also asked what impact the National Broadband Plan should have, including how "access to audio and video content available over broadband" factors into its analysis of competition.

The FCC effort is going on at the same time the Third Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing challenges to the FCC's last quadrennial review-driven media ownership rule change. That is when the FCC under then-Chairman Kevin Martin chose only to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule and leave the others in place.

That move was panned, and taken to court, both by broadcasters who said it did not go far enough, and consolidation critics, who said it went too far.