The Republican FCC Lays More Groundwork for Media Consolidation

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who supported the order, said that she did have concerns about opening the floodgates to a future where the unique nature of noncommercial educational stations would be degraded. Former Chairman Tom Wheeler took up the issue in an item circulated last summer and it was eliminated last fall.

A small group of protesters disrupted the meeting briefly, singing a song indicating they would fight any attempt to water down those rules, which are created to ensure the free flow of internet content. "That doesn't happen by accident, that happens when policymakers bend the rules for media conglomerates to continue to amass greater power over what we see and hear", said Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, in a statement.

"This proceeding was launched in 2005 - a dozen years of deliberation is enough", Pai said.

"The overall approach is pretty simple _ it's not to deregulate or over-regulate", Pai told reporters after the meeting. The FCC said the information would help it generate unique identifiers for station board members, improving the accuracy of data about how many women and people of color have ownership or other interests in broadcast stations. The rule, allowing UHF stations to be counted as reaching only 50% of their markets when counting against the 39% national coverage cap, was in place until AUGUST 2016 and was eliminated in light of the changes in allocations when TV was converted to digital transmission (and most VHF stations were moved to UHF RF allocations).

National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith says it's "a rational first step in media ownership reform policy allowing free and local broadcasters to remain competitive with multi-national pay TV giants and broadband providers". With Republicans now holding a 2-1 majority, they were able to reverse the change on Thursday.

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"Today, the FCC is wiping the slate clean" by restoring the practice of discounting audience size for stations that formerly used UHF technology, and preparing to examine the cap, Pai said. "The UHF Loophole is unfair to the public because it treats UHF stations differently only for one goal - to let big station conglomerates own more stations across the country". Sinclair, with 173 TV stations, is working to finalize a deal to buy Tribune, which owns stations in major markets including New York, Chicago and Miami, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

The FCC's decision to reduce price controls on bulk broadband access _ known as business data services _ came after Wheeler had proposed to tighten them past year. Lightly-regulated competitive carriers make investments in such networks, which now account for almost half of the $45 billion BDS marketplace.

The move marks yet another departure from the Obama FCC, which sought to strengthen regulations and price caps in ILECs in response to complaints from CLECs about unfair prices and contract terms. Traditionally, the local exchange carriers that provide these services have been subject to price regulations.

Consumer groups and small business have been critical of Pai's proposal, arguing that it would hamper competition and lead to higher prices for the special access lines. Price caps that are set too low could have the undesirable effect of dissuading providers from making upgrades to their infrastructure.

Clyburn complained that the new rules define a market as competitive even if it has only one bulk broadband provider, as long as a competitor has access lines within half a mile. It's time for the agency to stop "micromanaging" the market, he said.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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