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Ensure that Broadcast Ownership Rules Reflect the Competitive Marketplace

ISSUE SUMMARY

The internet has transformed the media marketplace, yet TV and radio broadcasters are still subject to outdated rules restricting the number and type of outlets they may own. Policymakers should support the continued modernization of these rules to account for the rise, and increasing influence, of digital media.

Here's why:

TV and radio stations are best able to serve their local communities when allowed to compete effectively in the marketplace. Congress recognized this in the 1996 Telecommunications Act by requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to review its broadcast ownership rules every four years and to repeal or modify those no longer necessary in the public interest as the result of competition.

For years, NAB opposed the FCC's continued application of analog regulation in the digital age. Given the explosion of new media sources, such as online video and audio services, social media, blogs and websites, rules from the last century were no longer needed to ensure competition or diverse points of view. Applying restrictions only to broadcasters and not their competitors, made it increasingly difficult for local stations to compete successfully and invest in providing local and national news, weather, emergency information and highly-valued entertainment and sports programming.

In November 2017, the FCC finally updated many of the local broadcast ownership rules. The FCC:

  • Eliminated the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban;
  • Eliminated the 1970s-era radio/TV cross-ownership rule;
  • Reformed the local TV ownership rule to permit the ownership of two TV stations in smaller markets, as well as the largest ones; and
  • Eliminated the rule treating the joint sale of advertising time by TV stations as equivalent to common ownership.

Broadcasters applauded the long overdue modernization of these rules. Local stations are a critical source of information and entertainment in every community across this country, and it takes significant resources to provide up-to-the minute news and emergency journalism, among other services. No other medium has the responsibility, the ability or incentive to serve the public's needs. As competition from unregulated outlets continues to grow, policymakers should support the FCC's modernization of radio and TV ownership rules to reflect the current marketplace. To continue offering free, over-the-air service, broadcasters must be able to compete on a level playing field for audiences, advertising and investment.