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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
August 5, 1999
BROADCAST OWNERSHIP ITEMS
Today, we are bringing to a close proceedings that have been pending since 1991.
These rule changes are long overdue. For far too long it's been a case of administration by
waiver, not by rule. Parties have presented us with a variety of business arrangements and
combinations, and we have not been able to set a bright line test as to what's permitted and
what's not, and so the problem just keeps getting worse.|
Today we are cleaning up our rules and providing the certainty that the market needs.
But more than that, we are adopting commonsense rules that recognize the dramatic changes that the media marketplace has undergone since our broadcast ownership rules were adopted 30 years ago. Back then, there were three broadcast networks; cable was still a novelty; and interactive TV meant yelling at your kids to turn it down. Now, cable systems serve almost 65 million TV households; other multi-channel video programmers -- such as Direct Broadcast Satellite -- offer hundreds of channels to viewers; since 1970, the number of radio and television stations has increased by more than 85 percent; and people are watching everything from hip-replacement surgery to the local weather on their PC's linked to the Internet. As we cross over into the next millennium, we are clearly entering a new media age.
In such an age, we need to provide broadcasters with flexibility to seize opportunities and compete in this increasingly dynamic media marketplace. These items will not only help them compete with the growing number of alternative media. They will also help preserve free local broadcast service. It is this localism that makes broadcasters so special. That is why we are taking steps, for example, to allow a television licensee to buy another station in the same market, as long as the market will continue to be served by at least eight independently-owned television stations and at least one of the merging stations is not one of the top four stations in the market. It is also why we will waive the rule in situations involving financially-troubled and unbuilt stations. In these cases, allowing a small station to combine with another station in the market -- and take advantage of shared costs and operating efficiencies -- will increase competition and outlet diversity in the local market and at times keep a station on the air that otherwise would go dark. For these same reasons, we are also relaxing our radio-television cross-ownership rule.
This is not, however, the time to completely deregulate broadcast ownership. Our ownership rules have always reflected core values of competition, diversity, and localism. The changes we are making today are tailored to grant broadcasters more flexibility while at the same time ensuring that consolidation will only occur in markets where these core values will not be undermined. Our action today thus strikes an appropriate balance, by relaxing the rules but maintaining a diversity floor.
We are also taking steps to better identify broadcasters' real ownership interests in media properties, which will make our ownership rules more meaningful and easier to apply. Our new "equity/debt plus" attribution rule, for example, will ensure that our rules take account of the ways that debt instruments can be a source of influence over a licensee. And by making LMA's attributable, our rules will prevent the use of time brokerage agreements to circumvent our ownership limits.
Many existing LMA's will meet our new television duopoly rules. But as to the others, we do not wish to upset established business relationships entered into before we made clear our proposal to attribute LMA's. We are, therefore, providing significant grandfathering relief for those LMA's entered into before November 1996, and we are allowing those entered into after that date two years to comply with our new rules. We are also providing significant grandfathering relief to parties holding conditional waivers of our radio-television cross ownership rule or with a pending application for such a waiver. These steps reflect our concern that parties' established business interests not be unduly upset, and a balance between the need to maintain a diversity floor in local markets and the recognition that in some cases LMA's have enhanced competition and outlet diversity in local markets.
That being said, I think we need to consider more broadly the role of LMAs in broadcasting. While they have no doubt produced some benefit, they represent a kind of artifice. I believe we need to consider whether the benefits of LMAs could be attained through other arrangements, such as actual joint ownership, that do not raise questions concerning the responsibility and accountability of the actual licensee of a station.
It may well be that as a result of our action today, most of these problems will fade away because LMAs will be converted into duopolies. But I will be watching what happens in this regard, because I'm concerned about the degree of control that is conferred by an LMA.
In sum, our actions today will provide broadcasters with the certainty they need to make rational business judgments in the marketplace. These items recognize the competitive realities of the new media age while honoring our nation's oldest values. For these reasons, I am pleased to bring these long-pending proceedings to a conclusion.