Dereg rollback rolls through committee


The Senate Commerce Committee Thursday voted to rollback key provisions of
the Federal Communications Commission's recent media-ownership deregulation by
passing measures that would reinstate the 35% cap on national TV household reach
and the prohibition on crossownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in
the same market.

Fox and CBS, both of which surpass the 35% level, would be forced to divest
enough stations to get below the cap within a year of the bill's enactment.

The panel also voted to force radio station groups to breakup local clusters
that don't comply with the FCC's recently tightened local ownership rules.

The FCC, as part of sweeping broadcast-ownership rule changes approved June
2, grandfathered existing local groups that were cast into noncompliance by the
radio rule change.

The measure, sponsored by committee chairman John McCain, was aimed at radio
giant Clear Channel, which many charged had abused previous loopholes in
radio-ownership rules to own more stations in small markets than Congress

Many other radio groups, however, are expected to be forced to divest
stations if the provision becomes law.

Although Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), sponsor of the newspaper crossownership
measure was reluctant, he was forced to accept an accompanying measure from Sen.
Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), that would require the FCC to consider permitting a
cross-owned combo in markets 150 and smaller when a state's public utilities
commission found the pairing to be in the public interest.

Stevens said the provision would promote local ownership by allowing struggle
small market media companies to pair up rather than selling out to an
out-of-town conglomerate.

The measure still must be approved by the full Senate and then move on to the
House, where Energy and Commerce Committee Billy Tauzin has been reluctant to
take up the measure.

McCain's committee may approve still further tightening.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), decided to withhold his
amendment eliminating the UHF discount from Thursday's crowed until next week's
vote to reauthorize the FCC.

As expected, the bill was too reregulatory for the National Association of Broadcasters.

"NAB is pleased the Senate Commerce Committee voted to roll back the national
television ownership cap to 35%," said Eddie Fritts, president of NAB. "However, the bill also adopts provisions that
reinstate the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban and require radio
companies to divest legally-acquired stations. Consequently, NAB will strongly
oppose this legislation."