The FCC’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on Multiple Ownership has been published in the Federal Register, setting July 12, 2010 as the deadline for comments, with July 26 as the deadline for reply filings.   We previously outlined many of the questions asked in the wide-ranging Notice of Inquiry. The questions deal with the entire spectrum of media ownership issues, from asking questions about how the new media landscape changes the considerations given to media ownership restrictions, to inquiries into the way in which the consumer gets needed news and information programming from broadcast outlets, and the impact of consolidation on that information.  Filing comments in this proceeding before the deadline will help to shape the discussion that will occur. The FCC claims to be intent on finishing its review of the ownership during this calender year but, as the comments in this proceeding must be distilled into more specific proposals to be reflected in a subsequent  Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which must itself be subject to public comment, this would seem a very ambitious task given that there will be less than 6 months remaining after the comments are replies on the NOI are submitted. Nevertheless, the short 30 day comment period on the NOI seems designed to speed review – so time is short for interested parties to draft and submit meaningful comments on the fundamental and wide-ranging questions that are being asked..

Further highlighting the difficulty in completing the ownership review this year, is the FCC’s Public Notice that was just released – announcing that it is seeking bids for nine different studies to review various issues relevant to the media ownership proceeding. According to the Public Notice, studies will look at many of the issues on which the Commission has sought comment in the NOI, including studies of how consumers receive local news and information, the effect that media consolidation affects the diversity of programming and the degree of civic engagement in a community, and even requesting a study to design a model to be used to measure the degree of media consolidation in a market.  the Commission also asked for suggestions as to other studies that it could conduct relevant to this proceeding.  Comments on other potential areas of study are due by July 7.

The Commission is also, on a different track, completing its Future of Media proceeding (which we have summarized before).  That proceeding also looks at whether and how the local news and information needs of today’s consumer are being met by the media, and how those needs will be met in the future.  This study, too, is expected sometime near the end of the year.  There have been discussions by those involved in these proceedings that the ownership review, while not formally tied to the Future of Media study, will nevertheless look at the findings of that review to inform its discussion of the ownership issues facing the FCC.  If that is in fact the case, and the Future of Media report is not completed until the end of the year, how can the modification of the ownership rules that relies on this study be completed before the end of the year?

The majority of the Commission is new since the last ownership review was completed in late 2007.  Given the emphasis on so many new issues since that time (including the broadband roll out and the proposals to reclaim some of the television spectrum for wireless broadband uses), one wonders if the Commission really will have the capacity to move quickly on the ownership review, which always involved many controversial issues.  And, with issues such as shared service agreements, newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, television duopoly in small markets, and revisions to local radio ownership rules all seemingly on the table, there is no lack of controversy that will face the Commission this year.  So, prepare your comments, and get ready to let the FCC know what you think by the July 12 deadline.