[ Text Version ]

March 12, 1998


In the Matter of 1998 Biennial Review -- Review of the Commission's Broadcast Ownership Rules and Other Rules Adopted Pursuant to Section 202 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996

I welcome the opportunity to initiate this biennial review of our broadcast ownership rules. In addition to our statutory mandate to conduct such a review, I believe it is healthy to re-examine our rules periodically to ensure that they are still in the public interest.

The Commission's mandate in this proceeding is to determine whether any of our broadcast ownership rules are no longer necessary in the public interest as a result of competition. I write separately to state my belief that our twin interests of competition and diversity must be analyzed separately and subject to different standards of proof. Competition focuses on issues of market power. Market power can be constrained by competition even where there are only a handful of competitors in a market, and even though such competition does not reach all segments of society. In the cable context, for example, competition is deemed "effective" (and hence rates are not regulated) if a cable operator faces at least one competitor that passes 50% of the homes in its service area and 15% of subscribers take service from such competitor(s). In this context, those residents who may not have a competitive choice can benefit from those that do.

Diversity, in my mind, is different. Diversity promotes democratic values by ensuring that people are exposed to a range of views on issues of public concern. Unlike our interest in competition, I believe that our interest in promoting a diversity of voices and viewpoints can be satisfied only through a large number of separately-owned competitors in a market. Similarly, unlike our interest in competition, I do not believe that our interest in diversity can be satisfied if large segments of society do not have access to such diversity. When it comes to issues of self-governance, we cannot afford to become a nation of information haves and have-nots. Thus, I would ask those commenters who believe that our interest in diversity has been satisfied to adduce evidence not only that diverse sources of comparable information exist, but also that all segments of society -- rich and poor, urban and rural, minority and non-minority, apartment dwellers and single family home owners -- have legal and practical access to such diversity and are actually making use of it. For instance, it could be stipulated that the Internet provides diverse sources of information. But if a large number of people do not have access to a computer, or if those who have a computer find that accessing these sources is too cumbersome or too expensive, I would find it difficult to conclude that the Internet has rendered unnecessary our interest in promoting broadcasting diversity.

I stress that I have not prejudged the outcome of this inquiry. I thought it appropriate, however, to apprise commenters of the general standard by which I will ultimately decide whether our broadcast ownership rules are no longer necessary.

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