FCC Chairman Michael Powell backed up his talk that he would be taking the agency in a more deregulatory direction than his predecessor Bill Kennard. Last week, he approved 32 radio deals involving 62 stations that Kennard had flagged for fear that they would result in too much radio consolidation in the 26 affected markets. Powell said he acted because the review process had hung up the sales in the FCC bureaucracy too long: "I do not believe the public interest is served by inaction."
Reading between the lines reveals that Powell has little patience for a process that puts the FCC in the trust-busting business. Having served earlier at the Justice Department, he knows that other government agencies are charged with that duty and far more capable of executing it. The FCC's market-concentration review process is still in place-10 deals are still snagged on it, in fact-but the betting here is that it will last about as long as Monmouth did in the NCAA tourney.
Powell's action must be discouraging to the broadcast-network affiliates who have been running around Washington decrying the power of the networks. The affiliates are hoping that their complaints will give them a little more leverage in their negotiations with the networks and discourage Powell from relaxing the broadcast ownership cap, which would allow the networks to muscle up by acquiring still more stations.
Powell is the real deal. The burden of proof is on those who want to keep regulations in place-ownership or otherwise. And that burden is a heavy one.