FCC clears way for big TV mergers, eases broadband price limits

FCC clears way for big TV mergers, eases broadband price limits

The vote was 2-1, with Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn dissenting.

After ten years of industry bickering and lobbying, Tom Wheeler last year began seriously exploring changes to special access rules, including price caps on how much these monopolies and duopolies can charge smaller companies (and in wireless, smaller competitors). Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly kept it brief, saying that he didn't "believe the commission has the authority to alter the UHF discount, and certainly not separate from the national ownership rule".

It's a numbers game, but for the country's largest owners of TV stations, it's a very important scorecard.

Pai said FCC price controls were preventing existing providers from expanding their networks and discouraging new entrants, such as cable companies. "I specifically argued we can not do one without the other".

In addition to April being National Pecan Month, National Stress Awareness Month and National Soft Pretzel Month (as noted by Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai), April could be informally considered noncommercial broadcasting's month, given the adoption of two orders during the FCC's April 20 Open Meeting.

The FCC will provide a "reasonable" transition period - it had not specified that time frame at press time - which critics of the proposal said was the least it could do if it proceeded, before it deregulates incumbent providers of BDS service.

"This represents 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, " said Gordon Smith, the CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters. "On-air fundraising by noncommercial stations can also help raise awareness about important local and global topics, such as poverty, health care, and humanitarian issues". "Will we be asked one year from now to allow ten percent of total airtime for third-party fundraising?".

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However, the FCC will still require NCEs to submit information about the gender, race, and ethnicity of their governing officers and board members.

The "media ownership rule" or "UHF discount" makes it easier for broadcasters to buy stations that broadcast on ultra-high frequencies without surpassing limits on the number of stations they can own in each market.

The commission said "this approach properly balances the commission's need to improve its broadcast ownership data with the potential chilling effects that a mandatory reporting requirement could have on participation in NCE station governance".

The FCC's vote takes away price caps in a county when a competing BDS provider has a network within a half mile of 50 percent of the buildings served by existing providers, even if the building is now served by just one provider.

Needless to say, companies like AT&T and Verizon have worked pretty tirelessly at keeping it this way, despite a decade of efforts by consumer advocates and smaller companies (like Sprint & T-Mobile).

Also at today's meeting, the FCC adopted a rule change for the high-cost Universal Service program that will let rate of return carriers collect some funding when they deploy new lines at costs that exceed the average per-location cap.

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