Casting themselves as the little guys in their fight with the TV networks won't win any sympathy at the FCC, the agency's chief regulator said yesterday.
"Businesses always assert that what's at stake is some kind of mom and pop, mom and apple pie government interest," Powell told reporters. Disputes over programming costs, preemption rights and other disagreements must be settled in market driven negotiations and the by the marketplace, he said. "Part of what of what is cracking up between the industries is different judgements about where the competitive medium is going and what you must deliver with advances in technology and consumer tastes and interests. I don't necessarily want to predetermine or answer that question for them."
By arguing that local control of TV programming will be jeopardized if networks get the right to buy more stations, the affiliates are choosing a position that has increasingly less credence, he said. "You've got to stop focusing about the allegations of the businesses and start thinking about the consumer. Will the governments role be different if one-thirds of Americans are still receiving news, entertainment and information over the air than it would be if 95% of them are receiving it over cable. My own view is the government role would probably be different in that regard."
Today the commission would "seriously entertain" questions about impact on localism and local distribution, but that's likely to change as reliance on pay-TV options like cable and satellite delivery blanket the country.
"If 100% of Americans didn't get free over the air TV what are we protecting?" Powell stressed, however, that he has not decided how to rule on affiliates' charge that the networks have violated several FCC rules governing their relations.
- Bill McConnell