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FCC's Wheeler Pulls Media Ownership Proposal

Replacing predecessor's draft with his own

The Federal Communications Commission’s review of media ownership rules, now nearly three years late, is likely to drag on even longer. New FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has decided to withdraw the proposal to relax the rules circulated by his predecessor, Julius Genachowski, and replace it with his own, according to a Wall Street Journal report

Genachowski’s proposal, circulated about a year ago, called for relaxing the ban on owning a radio station and a newspaper in a single market, but keeping the ban on owning a TV station and a newspaper in markets outside the top 20 largest.

The FCC confirmed it was taking the Genachowski proposal off circulation to give the new chairman and commissioners "a fresh look", but provided few other details.

Wheeler has barely mentioned the pending media ownership rules since becoming chairman a little more than 40 days ago, let alone give any indication of his point of view on the rules. His stock answer seems to be that the FCC needs to "look at it." At a recent House communications and technology subcommittee hearing, chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) criticized the FCC for dragging its feet on the proceeding. 

On hearing the news, Walden reiterated his call that the FCC meet its deadlines. "The FCC has been zero for two in its past attepts to change media ownership rules and is late on its 2010 review to boot. It is high time that the FCC work within the bounds of its statutory authority to inject some regulatory certainty into this issue. I hope it is chairman Wheeler's goal to get something done in light of the new realities facing media ownership due to new competitive avenues of content distribution provided over the Internet. As he made clear during his testimoy last week there must be a focus on competition and whether greater flexibility in media ownership rules for traditional print and broadcast media are necessary to maintain that competitive environment."

Groups like Free Press hope the FCC's move to withdraw the year-old media ownership proposal means just the opposite. "We're pleased the FCC has heard and responded to the millions of people who have told the agency time and time again that media consolidation has gotten out of control," said Free Press CEO Craig Aaron. "We thank chairman Wheeler for recognizing that the path the previous leadership took was the wrong way to go."

By law, the FCC is required to review its media ownership rules every four years; the current proceeding should have been completed in 2010. But Genachowski never seemed anxious to move the review of media ownership rules along.

The most recent delay to plague the 2010 review was earlier this year when Genachowski agreed to hold off on any new proposal until the commission conducted an impact study on the affects of cross-ownership on minority ownership. 

With the way things are going, Wheeler might get the 2010 review done just as the 2014 review would normally get underway.

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