FCC Reauthorization Would End Media Cross-ownership Ban

House Republicans, who have been trying to excise the media cross-ownership ban from the FCC's regulatory playbook, are making that part of the draft legislation reauthorizing the FCC, according to a GOP staff memo for Tuesday's FCC oversight hearing.

Last December, committee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) introduced a bill to repeal the ban, which applies to daily newspapers and broadcast outlets, which the pair called "disco-era" regulations.

The FCC under chairman Tom Wheeler declined to scrap the ban in the most recent quadrennial ownership rule review, despite suggestions on both sides of the political spectrum that it had outlived its usefulness.

The rule dates from 1975 and prevents TV and radio stations from owning a daily newspaper in the same market. The FCC in 2003 under then-chairman Michael Powell found the rule no longer in the public interest, but that decision was challenged in court and has remained on the books.

The reauthorization draft, in addition to eliminating the ban, includes process reforms like making public items circulated for a commission vote, something FCC chairman Ajit Pai has been doing, but which could change under a new chairman unless it were codified. It would also mandate cost-benefit analysis for proposed rules with potentially significant economic impact.

It would allow the FCC more flexibility in assessing regulatory fees—the FCC is self-supporting, paying for its ongoing operations through fees on regulated entities. It also raises the status and profile of the chief information officer and FCC inspector general.

Among the issues the memo suggests will be lines of questioning are network neutrality, media ownership, process reform and the Lifeline broadband subsidy, all hot button issues to some degree or another.

The discussion draft reauthorizes the FCC through 2022. The last time the FCC was reauthorized was in 1990.

As Politico describes the process of reauthorization, "[e]very federal agency is supposed to operate under congressional authorization—the set of rules that define the priorities and activities of the government. When they expire, it’s a chance to reconsider an agency’s mission, modernize it and impose some accountability..."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.