Congressmen endorse dual ownership


On the same day the FCC relaxed restrictions on dual network ownership, leaders of the House Commerce Committee made it clear they want other industry ownership limits to come down quickly as well.

Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Telecommunications Subcommittee chief Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told FCC head Michael Powell in an April 18 letter to begin a review of additional broadcast ownership limits. In the letter, posted on the committee web site Thursday, they said the 35% cap on one company's TV household reach and prohibitions banning cable systems and newspapers from owning broadcast stations in their local markets are obsolete. "The commission's rules must reflect today's world, not that of fifty years ago," they wrote.

The rules are outmoded, they said, because the TV business has grown beyond the three-network world that existed when most industry restrictions originated. Given the plethora of broadcast, cable, and Internet options, broadcasters must have the same freedoms enjoyed by operators of other services.

The rules "may have the effect of thwarting the growth and competitiveness of free, over-the-air broadcasters, especially vis-a-vis pay television services," they wrote. The lawmakers suggested Powell launch an independent rulemaking for the three areas or accelerate the start of the next FCC biennial review of broadcast ownership rules.

Powell has pledged to review the newspaper cross-ownership rule later this spring, but has been expected to wait until pending court challenges over the broadcast reach cap and newspaper cross-ownership are resolved. - Bill McConnell