In a Public Notice issued yesterday, the FCC announced that it would do a series of open "workshops" in connection with its review of the broadcast multiple ownership rules – the rules that restrict the number of radio or television stations which one party can own and which restrict the cross-ownership of radio and TV stations and newspapers in the same market. The FCC is poised to begin its quadrennial review of the ownership rules in 2010. The open proceedings just announced (without details of how many workshops will be held) will be used to gather information for the Commission’s review of the rules. According to the public notice "the Commission will seek viewpoints and information from a broad range of experts; consumers; public interest and trade associations; labor unions; media industry representatives, both traditional and new; and other interested persons," as the first step in this review process. So what is this all about?
As part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC was instructed to do a regular review of broadcast multiple ownership rules, seemingly with the intent of reducing the prohibitions of those rules as part of the general deregulatory spirit of that Act. Originally, proceedings were to review the rules every two years, a Biennial Review. However, those reviews kept dragging on and becoming consolidated with each other so Congress eventually amended the law to require that the review take place only once every four years. But each time the FCC has taken action on the rules, especially any time there has been any liberalization, there has been a major outcry from consumer groups that they were left out of the process. Perhaps the just announced hearings are an attempt to short circuit that protest by getting the public involved even before the process begins.