FCC: Rules Are Made to Be Kept

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Broadcasters can’t seem to get a break from the FCC these days when it comes to gaining breathing room from rules that limit how they do business in a crowded field of video options.

Granted, they did get a solid win courtesy of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s decision not to make blackouts during retrans impasses or channel bundling in retrans negotiations de facto bad faith bargaining. But that was the FCC not adding new regulations, and was followed days later by a whopping $9 million-plus settlement with Sinclair, one of the nation’s largest broadcast groups, over allegations it had improperly negotiated retrans for non-owned stations.

Wheeler had signaled when closing the FCC’s review on the definition of good faith negotiations that the commission would not be sitting on its hands, and it didn’t take long for him to put some retrans muscle into his competition mantra.

And when it comes to pruning existing restrictions, the commission majority has not heard broadcasters’ cries for help.

The FCC commissioners made official what the Democratic majority had already determined: The FCC is not loosening duopoly rules or the cross-ownership rules, concluding they were still in the public interest.

In the case of newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, that came in the face of declining newspaper fortunes and the revelation several years ago from a trio of former FCC chairmen that the rule had outlived its usefulness and had only survived because of political pressure from Congress, which feared the power of broadcasters at election time.

Asked if the National Association of Broadcasters plans to sue the FCC, a spokesperson said: “That’s a decision our board will have to make.”

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.