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NAB's Rehr Spells Out Ownership Priorities

Now that the White House has nominated a third Republican commissioner--Robert McDowell, senior VP and general counsel of telecom association Comptel,--FCC Chairman Kevin Martin can proceed with a rewrite of the FCC's remanded ownership rules.

To that end, National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr has sent a letter to the FCC outlining the association's wish list for reforms to rules he says "impair broadcasters' ability to compete in a digital multi-channel marketplace."

Topping the list, and reiterating NAB's long-held position, is "reforming" the broadcast/newspaper crossownership ban--which currently does not allow even one station to be co-owned with a newspaper in the same market, save for some 70 or 80 grandfathered combos--and allowing duopolies (ownership of two stations by one entity) in medium and smaller markets. They are already allowed in large markets.

NAB argues that the expense of the DTV transition, reductions in network compensation to stations, and increased competition from cable and satellite have created financial pressures on smaller stations that could be ameliorated if they were allowed to combine resources with other media outlets.

Rehr suggests that, "as the commission recognized in 2003, same-market combintations can enhance localism and diversity by increasing the amount of news and local programming at the combining stations and by making local television broadcasters more competitive with other video delivery systems."
Those delivery systems have increased since 2003, with IPTV and telco video gaining momentum with each new franchise and content deal.

The FCC's initial deregulatory rewrite was remanded by a federal court for its failure to adequately justify some of the changes.

Martin has not had a Republican majority since being named chairman in March, so a better-justified, but still deregulatory, recrafting of the rules would have been tough to get by the two Democrats on the commission who opposed the initial rules.

The regulatory uncertainty has held up some station sales, while others have gone through with waviers and caveats, depending on how the new rules shake out.