The Federal Communications Commission is seeking public comment on the regulator’s media ownership rules, including whether its current rules are “necessary in the public interest as the result of competition.”
The comment period is part of the agency’s regular review of media ownership rules, which by law it must examine every four years as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The findings of the agency’s last quadrennial review in 2018 were never formally adopted. Part of the hold up in that instance was a proposal to relax cross-ownership rules that some public interest groups said could harm women and minority broadcast owners if the FCC adopted them.
The proposed changes included relaxing cross-ownership rules, as well as replacing a blanket ban on any individual company owning the “top two” television stations in a market with a case-by-case review. The proposal would also lift a restriction that forbids any of the four big broadcast television networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — from merging with each other.
The Supreme Court eventually sided with the FCC, but the proposed changes were never formally adopted through the 2018 review. The FCC is seeking to re-introduce those changes now through its 2022 review of media ownership rules.
“We seek comment on the impact of the rules on the American public as consumers of media and the function and objectives of the rules as they relate to broadcasters’ public interest obligations,” the FCC said in a public notice on Thursday.
Among other things, the FCC is hoping to hear public comment on whether the current rules have resulted in “returns” for broadcast consumers, and whether streaming services generate enough competition in the marketplace to warrant a modification or revocation of some ownership rules.
“Should the Commission adjust its analysis of the audio and video programming marketplace to account for fundamental changes in consumer behavior (e.g., use of streaming alternatives)? Are there areas in which consumers rely uniquely on broadcast media?” the FCC questioned in its public notice. “More generally, how should the Commission define or redefine the policy goals for the rules? Are there other policy goals, besides competition, localism, and diversity, that the Commission should consider in relation to the rules?”
Noting that prior comment periods have resulted in concerns about the effects on women and minority broadcast owners, the FCC said it wants members of the public to provide additional insight into those concerns during this comment period.
“We ask commenters to explain in detail or to demonstrate with legal analysis and empirical evidence how any such changes or additions would address concerns regarding minority and female ownership and how they could withstand legal scrutiny,” the FCC said.
The FCC said the public comment period is open for 45 days upon the publication of the notice, with reply comments due 60 days from the date of the notice. Anyone wishing to submit comments can do so through the FCC’s website or by mail. Comments must be submitted in MB Docket No. 22-459.