August 5, 1999
|Re:||Review of the Commission's Regulations Governing Television Broadcasting (MM Docket No. 91-221); and Television Satellite Stations Review of Policy and Rules (MM Docket No. 87-8)
Review of the Commission's Regulations Governing Attribution of Broadcast and Cable/MDS Interests (MM Docket No. 94-150); Review of the Commission's Regulations and Policies Affecting Investment in the Broadcast Industry; (MM Docket No. 92-51); and Reexamination of the Commission's Cross-Interest Policy (MM Docket No. 87-154).
Today I vote in favor of these orders revising the Commission's rules governing local broadcast ownership. I write separately to give greater context to my vote.
I believe that the actions we take today are both constitutional and consistent with the explicit intent of Congress to promote diversity and competition in the media marketplace. Section 257(b) of the 1996 Act explicitly instructs the Commission to "promote the policies and purposes of this Act favoring diversity of media voices."
47 U.S.C. Section 257(b). Thus, as we review our ownership rules, it is clearly the intent of Congress that we consider the implications of our rules on diversity.
I agree that diversity is very hard to define, and is at some level a visceral concept. Accordingly, we should be cautious in over-invoking it as a justification for imposing or intruding on constitutionally protected activities. Yet, not all worthy policy goals, not all important government interests, and indeed, not all compelling government interests, can be quantified or measured with precision. I do not believe the Constitution boxes out all subjective judgment in government actions. Yes, diversity is hard to define, but not more so than obscenity, privacy, or interstate commerce, areas in which the law allows government activity. What is important, is that such rules be balanced and well-reasoned. Moreover, where rules involve some degree of subjective balancing, they should be reviewed frequently to ensure they remain on keel, given changing conditions in the market. This is what I feel the Commission has failed to do over the years. But the Commission takes an important step forward today, and it should continue to review these rules at periodic intervals, as Congress instructed. 47 U.S.C. Section 202(h).
In all of the discussion about diversity and localism, I believe we lose sight of something that is unique about broadcasting, something that I believe is a substantial public benefit and something that is not so easily entangled in the web of concern about content infringement. It is the fact that broadcasting is free.
There are substantial public benefits that flow from the free broadcasting business model. It provides access by all of our citizens to news, entertainment, and information, regardless of their socio-economic class. It provides valuable information to citizens in natural disasters who cannot access their phones or cable systems because of downed lines or loss of power. It lets people in a mobile society stay connected to the outside world, as well as individuals in remote areas.
But, this free business model is quite unique and, thus, some special consideration of the challenges to it is warranted. For example, as a medium it competes against other media that have access to subscription revenue in addition to advertising dollars. Broadcasters cannot as easily repackage programming or recoup costs of purchasing high quality programming. And they have significantly less distribution capacity than most of their competitors. Therefore, it is important to ensure our rules do not unduly constrain broadcast business competitiveness and viability.
Additionally, the public value of having a diverse free medium also warrants some government attention to undue concentration. If a single media group were to monopolize a market, advertising rates would likely increase as would the desire for advertisers to place advertisements with the concentrated media group. Because advertising dollars are not infinite, it would mean other stations would suffer the effects of less advertising revenue, which is the lifeblood of a station's viability. Should such a station be crippled or fail, the public would have lost a source of programming. This could happen irrespective of how highly the public might value the station, since they cannot express their preference by paying higher rates to sustain the station. For this reason, we are justified in giving some consideration to the structure of the market for free broadcasting.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not briefly express a few of my concerns. In the items adopted today the Commission does not grandfather LMAs that were entered into after November 1996, the date of the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in these proceedings. I would have preferred to grandfather LMAs entered into after November 1996. The Commission's delay in bringing these proceedings to a close since 1996 has forced broadcasters to make business decisions regarding LMAs for over three years without knowing what the rules would be. As a result, I believe the equities lie in favor of grandfathering these arrangements.
I also would have preferred to count additional media in the voice counts. For example, where cable is subject to effective competition as a result of a cable overbuild, I would argue that there are two voices for cable in that market. I would not have required involuntary bankruptcy to access the failed station waiver. I do not believe that there is any real threat of a broadcaster's entering into bankruptcy voluntarily to gain the benefits of this waiver provision.
Rules, however, are by their very nature both under- and over-inclusive. The rules we adopt today are not all right, and not all wrong. But they reflect what good public policy often must be, a balanced compromise of conflicting values and judgments. And I believe that with the Orders adopted today, the Commission takes an extremely important step toward aligning our rules with the current realities of the electronic media market programming market.