Senators Criticize FCC Media Review

By: David Ho, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Fifteen senators asked regulators Thursday to disclose their plans for overhauling media ownership restrictions before going ahead with the changes.

Debate over the Federal Communications Commission’s review has heated up as the agency’s planned June 2 vote nears.

The FCC is studying whether decades-old ownership restrictions belong in a market altered by satellite broadcasts, cable television, and the Internet.

The rules include limits on the national reach of television broadcasters, a ban on mergers between major television networks and a restriction preventing a company from owning a newspaper and a radio or television station in the same city.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, five Republicans and 10 Democrats, most of them on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said they were disappointed that the updated rules would be released “without any opportunity for the Congress or the public to review them beforehand.”

“Dramatic changes in the structure of our media marketplace could have long-term consequences on the diversity of voices and free expression in our nation,” said the lawmakers, including Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, the committee’s top Democrat.

FCC spokesman Richard Diamond said the agency is working on a response.

Last week, 12 other lawmakers took an opposite position, calling the current ownership restrictions outdated and urging Powell to complete the review on schedule. Those lawmakers included four members of the Senate committee and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Small Business Administration wrote to Powell on Wednesday, saying that the FCC has moved too quickly to alter the rules and should back off, allowing more time for comments.

Powell said last month that the FCC will seek more comment if necessary, but he is not inclined to do it without good reason. “There are those who would just simply want to delay the proceeding because they are not supportive of change,” he said.

Powell repeatedly has said changes to the ownership rules are needed. The two other Republicans on the five-member commission are widely expected to seek looser regulations, an outcome sought by many large media companies who say the rules hurt business.

The panel’s two Democrats want more time for the review.

A 1996 law requires the FCC to periodically review ownership rules in light of industry changes.

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