FCC Adopts Broadcast Ownership NOI

May 25, 2010. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted and released a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) [38 pages in PDF] in its proceeding regarding regulation of broadcast ownership.

This NOI states that "Dramatic changes in the marketplace make it highly appropriate that we take a fresh look at our current ownership rules in order to determine whether they will serve our public interest goals of competition, localism, and diversity going forward."

Media ownership rules were conceived in an age when there were few substitutes in each broadcast market for a small number of radio and television broadcasters. However, wave after wave of new technologies have enabled the creation of new media platforms and methods for distributing programming, news and other information. Broadcasters are loosing audience and advertising revenues. The FCC rules have long since become obsolete. Yet, the statutory requirement remains. (See, 47 U.S.C. § 303 note regarding broadcast ownership.) The Congress and FCC also maintain an antiquated regulatory regime for various political purposes.

This NOI emphasizes "consolidation on media markets", but also acknowledges that the "increased penetration of the Internet, and the availability of alternative sources of news, information, and entertainment online have presented the broadcast television, radio, and newspaper industries with increased competition for audiences, as well as advertising dollars".

The NOI propounds numerous questions. It begins by stating that the FCC seeks comments on "how to: (1) define the policy goals of competition, localism, and diversity; (2) determine how best to promote these goals in today’s media market; (3) analyze the relevance of our policy goals to each of the four groups of market participants we have identified; (4) measure whether particular ownership structures promote these goals; (5) determine whether any new or revised rules we could adopt would promote these goals; (6) determine when a goal has been achieved; and (7) balance the goals when they conflict with each other." (Footnote omitted.)

As with the FCC's proceeding begun by its Public Notice of January 21, 2010, this NOI seeks to involve the FCC in regulation of journalism. For example, the NOI asks "Should we consider the impact of our ownership rules on investigative journalism? If so, should the Commission consider only investigative journalism in broadcast media or across all media? If commenters believe that we should undertake such an examination in this proceeding, we invite comment on whether revising multiple ownership rules is necessary to preserve or enhance the availability of news and information and journalism, and, if so, what specific measures should be taken to promote these goals." (See, NOI at page 25.)

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps lamented the "harmful effects that media consolidation" in his statement.

Corey Wright of the Free Press stated in a release that the FCC "should hold meaningful public hearings, similar to those held by Chairman Kevin Martin, to put a spotlight on media consolidation's impact on local communities.”

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell wrote in his statement that the FCC "has known since at least the time of its 2002 ownership review that the Internet would have a profound effect on the media landscape, yet for various reasons the agency has been unable to fully adapt its regulations to the new realities."

He added that "Burdensome rules that have remained essentially intact for more than a decade should not be allowed to continue impeding, or potentially impeding, the ability of broadcasters and newspapers to survive and thrive in the digital era."

This proceeding is titled "In the Matter of 2010 Quadrennial Regulatory Review -- Review of the Commission's Broadcast Ownership Rules and Other Rules Adopted Pursuant to Section 202 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996". This NOI is FCC 10-92 in MB Docket No. 09-182.

The NOI states that initial comments will be due within 30 days of publication of a notice in the Federal Register, and that reply comments will be due within 45 days of such publication. This notice has not yet been published.