Having given FCC chairman Tom Wheeler credit for recognizing that the local cable market has changed markedly in the last 20 years and the industry is de facto competitive unless a local franchise authority can prove otherwise, we urge him to broaden his world view to include that other local-market video provider—broadcasting.
In explaining why it had come to the conclusion that local cable systems were subject to video competition and thus decided to loosen regulations that were a burden on cable operators, the FCC spoke plainly. The agency said that in the 23 years since the cable regs were adopted: “Competitors have garnered far in excess of the market share Congress deemed necessary to free cable operators from the vestiges of rate regulation.” OK, well, from 1992-2015, broadcasters’ ratings for their top shows have dropped from a 15 or 20 on any given night to a 1 or 2.
Viewers in virtually every Nielsen market now have the choice between broadcast TV stations, two satellite operators and hundreds of cable channels, not to mention Netflix and Hulu and many more online viewing options.
The FCC is not even scheduled to finish its review of outdated broadcast regs, like the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, until 2016, even as the FCC remakes the TV spectrum band to make online video even more accessible and competitive.
Unfortunately, we have to keep reminding the current FCC of the fact that a bipartisan trio of former FCC chairmen, in a 2010 interview for C-SPAN’s Communicators series, publicly conceded they thought the cross-ownership rule should have been excised long ago and that politics was the reason they did not act on that sentiment. That’s a practical reality, but a poor excuse.
The commission needs to get its head out of the last century and give broadcasters a better chance to be competitive in this one.