Dec
21
2001

FCC Moves to Eliminate Cable Ownership Cap; Move Would Also Impact Internet

The Federal Communications Commission is moving to eliminate one of the few remaining vestiges of public interest regulation on media concentration-- the rules that limit the percentage of the national audience that a single cable company can reach. If existing rules limiting a single company to 30 percent of the national market are abandoned, the country’s cable TV industry, now dominated by just eight companies, could be controlled by as few as two. Such consolidation threatens the diversity not just of cable TV but also of the Internet, since cable is likely to eventually be the way most people get Internet access.

Just two days after the September 11 attacks, the FCC moved to review both the cable ownership cap and the “cross-ownership” rules that keep a single company from owning both a newspaper and a TV station in the same geographic area. (See FAIR Action Alert, http://www.fair.org/activism/ownership-comment.html .) FCC reviews include a mandatory public comment period to give Americans a chance to weigh in on proposed regulations. The public comment period for the cross-ownership rules closed on December 3, 2001, but the public has until January 4 to weigh in on the cable ownership cap.

Cable mega-companies like AOL Time Warner have aggressively moved to eliminate even the most modest of public interest regulations, claiming that any such rules impinge on their First Amendment rights. Despite the dubious idea of a “right” that only two giant corporations could take advantage of, a D.C. Court of Appeals accepted that argument, striking down the federal limit on the size of cable companies in March 2001; on December 3, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review that decision.

Several recent court rulings have favored media corporations’ desire to grow ever larger and more concentrated; the FCC could resist, by offering justification for its regulations, but few observers expect the agency to do so. “If the Federal Communications Commission is heading in the direction many predict that it is, a new era of mega-media mergers may be on its way,” reports the New York Law Journal (10/4/01). “The way to bet here is that they will loosen the rules,” adds analyst and former FCC official Blair Levin.

"Looser" rules will very likely also mean higher cable rates for consumers; since the deregulatory Telecommunications Act of 1996, cable rates have risen nearly three times as fast as inflation.

Those concerned about preserving the democratic potential of the Internet should take heed: “AOL Time Warner and other cable companies are seeking to dramatically overturn the limits on cable system ownership precisely so they can control the key access point for the Internet marketplace,” explains the Center for Digital Democracy. The FCC needs to hear from the public now, the CDD’s Jeff Chester told CounterSpin (12/21/01), in order “to assure openness and diversity in cable and in the internet’s future.”

ACTION: Please let the FCC know that allowing further media consolidation by lifting the cable ownership cap will not serve the public interest.

The Center for Digital Democracy has created a special form that allows citizens to automatically file comments with the FCC. To access that form, go to:http://www.democraticmedia.org/getinvolved/fccfiling2.html

For more details on the FCC's efforts to weaken ownership rules, see the Center for Digital Democracy's in-depth resources: http://www.democraticmedia.org/issues/mediaownership/index.html