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FCC gets ready for quadrennial review of media ownership rules

September 29, 2009 |  3:17 pm

It's not exactly an invitation to the Emmy Awards or the Allen & Co. conference, but moguls nonetheless will be checking their mailboxes over the next few weeks to see if the Federal Communications Commission wants them to participate in a series of workshops and offer their input as the regulatory agency begins its 2010 review of its media ownership rules.


Mind you, a review does not necessarily mean change. The FCC conducts these reviews every four years to "determine whether any of such rules are necessary in the public interest as the result of competition."

We're pretty sure the broadcast industry will come up with a few ideas on the subject, particularly when it comes to rules regarding ownership of both television and newspapers in the same market as well as the number of stations one company can own both locally and nationally.

The cable industry has already won a big battle with the FCC when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with Comcast Corp. and against the agency over just how much of the nation's TV homes one cable company should be allowed to serve. The court tossed the FCC's rules that no cable company can serve more than 30% of the nation's TV marketplace. The Commission could either appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court or try and craft a new benchmark.

On the cable programming front, one of the more closely watched debates may be over the so-called program access rules, which are currently under attack by the industry in the courts. In a nutshell, the rules prohibit cable operators like Comcast and Cablevision that also own programming from refusing to sell their content to competing distributors such as satellite television or Verizon Fios. Those rules are currently set to expire in 2010, but could be extended by the FCC.

The workshops are set to start in November and will also seek input from the public and advocacy groups. Cynical observers don't expect the media industry to get much in the way of regulatory relief from the FCC.

In other words, cracked one industry executive, the agency may have those rules barring television and newspaper ownership in the same city long after there are any newspapers left. Fortunately, the FCC granted a waiver to our parent, Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times and KTLA-TV Channel 5.

Oh, and if you don't get an invite don't worry, you'll get a chance to have a say down the road.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images