Cable-ownership limits up for review

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The Federal Communications Commission members will soon review
recommendations from the Mass Media Bureau on revising cable-ownership limits,
agency chairman Michael Powell told reporters during a briefing Wednesday.

Powell would not say what changes are urged nor predict when the commissioners
would vote. Confusion over a reporter's question led Powell to imply that the commissioners had already received the bureau's proposal, but he later clarified the proceeding's status.

Sources following the proceeding stand by earlier reports that the
bureau would call on the commissioners to lift the cap on one company's share of
multichannel subscribership to as much as 45 percent from the current 30
percent.

The new limits, sources said, would vary between 30 percent and 45 percent,
depending on a company's ownership of cable-programming networks.

Companies with large programming stakes would face more restrictive limits
than those with little involvement in the network side of the business.

Despite expressed concerns about past radio consolidation, Powell said no one
should read into his uneasiness any specific moves on media ownership. "I don't
think you can extrapolate that I will vote for this rule or that rule or not to
eliminate [another] rule," he said.

With the FCC facing a heavy workload in 2003, Powell said he was relived that
Jonathan Adelstein's confirmation has given the agency a fifth vote. "I hate the
dynamic of a four-person commission. It is bad karma," he added.

Several FCC rulemakings and enforcement actions have been deadlocked and need
the ballot of the tie-breaking new commissioner, according to sources following
the agency.

Powell said he wasn't shocked by sniping between cable and broadcast trade
groups over the availability of ABC's high-definition-TV Super Bowl coverage or lack thereof.

"I've never been surprised by the degree to which any one of the
constituencies will seize on any incident as proof positive of their personal
and parochial positions. The only way this is going to work is for everybody to
stay in the playpen and work together," he said.

Regarding pressure by other FCC commissioners and some lawmakers for tougher
action against objectionable programming, Powell questioned whether the critics
could back up assertions that media consolidation is to blame for raunchy and
violent programming. "I understand anxiety about Citizen Kane, but don't replace
him with King George," he added.

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