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Schumer to FCC: Hands Off Broadcast Exclusivity Rules

Prominent Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has told FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in no uncertain terms that he does not want the FCC to eliminate broadcast exclusivity rules, saying it would foster "controversy rather than consensus," lacks adequate input from stakeholders, would be disruptive and would run counter to the intent of Congress.

The National Association of Broadcasters has found a host of friends in high Democratic places, including prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus and now Schumer, as it pushed back on a Wheeler proposal NAB says would hurt localism and diversity.

According to a copy of Schumer's letter obtained by B&C, the senator "urged" the chairman "not to move forward" with his plans to "change the network nonduplication and syndication [Sic] exclusivity rules."  Wheeler has circulated an item that would eliminate both, arguing they are unnecessary government backstops to contractual exclusivity.

Schumer said that the rules were passed in the context of the "broad, complicated regulatory system that closely ties non-duplication and exclusivity to the compulsory license." NAB has been making that same point, arguing the FCC should stand down until Congress weighs in on that compulsory license, which the GAO has been charged by Congress with studying as part of the renewal of the satellite compulsory license in the STELAR legislation.

Schumer pointed out that the STELAR bill did not revisit the question of whether there was any reason to change the exclusivity rules.

While the senator says the chairman may be right that the exclusivity rules are outdated and need revisiting, he says that must be a holistic exercise and must include Congress and relevant stakeholders in the dialog—while the FCC can excise the exclusivity rules, Congress would have to scrap the compulsory license.

"It is not appropriate or consistent with congressional intent for the Commission to unilaterally disrupt one aspect of the current regulatory and statutory regime outside the context of that broader debate, " he told Wheeler.

FCC commissioners have been in no hurry to vote the item, which has been in front of them for a few weeks now.

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.