FCC Finally Making Some Progress on Media Ownership Rules

Commission releases studies on current structure

With all the focus on broadband at the Federal Communications Commission, it's easy to forget that the regulator's quadrennial review of its media ownership rules, originally scheduled for 2010, is overdue. Some progress was made Wednesday, though, as the FCC released five of the nine studies it ordered as part of the review of the current rules.

The commission is still waiting for an additional four studies and will also conduct two studies internally. Once comments are in for all the studies, it will open up the process and decide whether to change the rules or keep them as is. 

The big question, though, is when that will happen, and whether the FCC will finally be able to break through the morass that its media ownership rules have become over the past decade. Some of the rules, such as one that puts limits on the ability of companies to own both a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same market, are still tied up in the courts .

Media ownership has also not been on the top of the commission's priority list. "Between spectrum and the broadband issues, there are so many other things that are ahead of this in line," said Brendan Holland, of counsel Davis Wright Tremaine.

It won't surprise anyone in Washington if it takes until fall, or even longer, before the FCC is able to review all the studies, make a decision, and open up the rule-making process.

"The FCC has gotten so far off the schedule, I've given up," said Scott Flick, partner with Pillsbury Law.

The five studies released today, which together clock in at about 300 pages, not including supporting data, are "How the ownership structure of media markets affects civic engagement and political knowledge, 2006-2008;" "Station ownership and the provision and consumption of radio news;" "Less of the same: the lack of local news on the Internet;" "Radio station ownership structure and the provision of programming to minority audiences;" and "A theoretical analysis of the impact of local market structure on the range of viewpoints supplied."