The FCC Perfects Fuzzy Math
Following continued calls by dissident FCC Commissioners Copps And Adelstein to stay the media ownership rules, Congress stepped up the dismantling of FCC Chairman Powell's attempt to reshape the media landscape. The House Appropriations Committee voted to "prohibit funds in the bill to grant licenses for a commercial TV broadcast station if the granting of that license would result in such party having an aggregate national audience reach exceeding 35 percent."
Ends up that according to the FCC's new rules in assessing TV media concentration, rural media markets such as the "magic city" Minot in North Dakota would be larger (have more TV stations) than Detroit Michigan. This despite the fact that Minot, with a staggering population of 36,567 in 2000 according to its Chamber of Commerce, has half as many commercial TV stations than the Motor City with its 1 million inhabitants. "Many small markets are now considered among the largest in the country," noted Commissioner Adelstein, raising the spectre of "a single owner dominat[ing] the media in many smaller towns."
These 'anomalies' in the new rules of course cast doubt on the agency's broader ability to properly regulate key sectors closer to our hearts such as broadcast radio that has witnessed nearly unfettered consolidation over the past years. In order to address such concerns as well as growing Congressional pressure and internal agency conflicts, the FCC announced a major reshuffling of its Media Bureau's economic team to focus on "independent market analysis and forward thinking research ...to monitor and evaluate the performance of media markets from a consumer welfare perspective."
The shift is certainly refreshing as the agency apparently turns its back on lobby-influenced, backwards thinking analysis that had focused more on justifying media executives' wish-list and good old corporate welfare. Unfortunately, the move remains too little too late to salvage a process that has left media companies with even more uncertainty than prior to the review process while consumers feel betrayed by a political process skewed against them. Nor is it likely to save Chairman Michael Powell's tainted legacy.