Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell defended his
agency’s broadcast-ownership limits, relaxed June 2, in an opinion piece
published in Monday’s New York Times.
He took specific aim at congressional efforts to reinstate the 35% cap on one
company's national TV-household reach, which his agency hiked to 45%.
"It is difficult to see exactly how setting a lower cap will improve
television," he wrote. "Already, most top sports programming has fled to cable
and satellite. Quality prime-time viewing, long the strong suit of free
television, has begun to erode, as demonstrated by HBO's [Home Box Office's] 109 Emmy [Award] nominations
this year. Indeed, for the first time ever, cable surpassed free TV in
prime-time viewing share last year. If [broadcasters] can reach more of the
market, broadcasters will be able to better compete with cable and satellite."
Powell dismissed worries that five big media companies have 80% of the TV-viewing audience. "Popularity is not synonymous with monopoly. A competitive
media marketplace must be our fundamental goal, but do we really want government
to regulate what is popular?"
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), sponsor of a bill that would nullify the FCC’s new rules, called
Powell’s argument an "absurd" proposition.
"I wonder what he had for breakfast?" Dorgan asked during a press conference