FCC Reopens Media Ownership Can of Worms

19 May 2005

US media regulator the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday formally disinterred the long-buried issue of media ownership rules - specifically those governing the cable industry.

In a formal communication to interested parties, the FCC invited comment from industry executives, anti-consolidation lobbyists and the public.

In particular, the FCC asks for views as to the point at which concentration of media properties affects the ability of program providers and networks to offer and support diverse programming.

The previous rules prohibited a cable company from commanding a share greater than 30% of the national total of cable homes. They also prevented cable firms that operate less than seventy-five channels from devoting more than 40% of those active channels to content controlled by themselves.

However, four years ago an appellate court struck down these rules on grounds that the FCC had failed to make a case for them, thereby consigning the issue of consolidation to a state of limbo.

However, the recent agreement by Time Warner and Comcast to purchase the cable assets of bankrupt Adelphia Communications [WAMN: 22-Apr-05] reopens the whole ownership can of worms.

Opines Andy Schwartzman, director of public interest law firm, the Media Access Project: "They the [FCC] have been sitting on it for four years. It's a signal from Kevin J Martin [the new FCC chairman] that he doesn't intend to play stall ball. I may not be happy with the result, but at least it will get completed."

Martin, a Republican appointee, declined to comment on his initiative. The FCC's two Democratic nominees, Michael J Copps and Jonathan S Adelstein, were less reticent. In a joint statement they declared themselves pleased that the FCC has not in principle ruled out a new set of ownership limits.

"We hope cable operators and other parties do not argue that there should be no numerical limits, but instead provide appropriate and necessary information to help us implement the clear command of the statute. We need to work efficiently and productively to establish numerical limits ... as soon as possible," chorused the Democrat duo.

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff