FCC Eases Ownership Rules

June 3, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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Federal Communications Commission President Michael Powell declared victory yesterday when the FCC relaxed decade-old laws restricting media ownership, permitting companies to buy more television stations and own a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same city.

Powell, who has faced growing criticism from various interests opposed to his move toward deregulation, welcomed the 3-2 vote from the Republican-controlled FCC.

“Our actions will advance our goals of diversity and localism,” Powell told the Associated Press.

The vote allows a single company to now own television stations that reach 45 percent of U.S. households instead of 35 percent. The major networks wanted the cap eliminated, while smaller broadcasters said a higher cap would allow the networks to gobble up stations and take away local control of programming.

The new FCC regulations largely end a ban on joint ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same city.

The provision lifts all cross-ownership restrictions in markets with nine or more TV stations. Smaller markets would face some limits and cross-ownership would be banned in markets with three or fewer TV stations.

The agency also eased rules governing local TV ownership so one company can own two television stations in more markets and three stations in the largest cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

The FCC has, however, kept a ban on mergers among the four major TV networks: ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX.

Rule changes are expected to face court challenges from media companies wanting more deregulation and consumer groups seeking stricter restrictions.

The FCC also changed how local radio markets are defined to correct a loophole that has allowed companies to exceed ownership limits in some areas.  

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