Michael O’Rielly, the FCC’s commissioner gave his first policy speech as a commissioner 1/27. O’Rielly, a Republican, warned his agency not to adopt undue restrictions in the upcoming auction of airwave licenses. As most know, the FCC is preparing to buy back the broadcast licenses of some TV stations in a spectrum auction to cellular carriers: “I also feel strongly that the Commission must not implement rules designed to preordain auction results or place undue restrictions on licenses,” O’Rielly said at the Hudson Institute. “Such efforts have failed in the past. And now, more than ever, we cannot afford to diminish participation or revenues. Instead, the Commission must allow licenses to go to their highest valued use and ensure spectrum flexibility.”
O’Rielly also emphasized that for the auction to succeed, the FCC must make the process as simple as possible to encourage participation by TV stations.
He also hinted that the agency should relax its media ownership restrictions: “I’m open to thoughtfully updating the commission’s [ownership] rules to reflect the realities of today’s marketplace.”
The FCC withdrew a proposal to relax the ban on owning multiple media outlets in the same market. More than a year ago, former FCC Chair Julius Genachowski circulated a draft item that would have eliminated the ban on owning a radio station and newspaper in the same market. The proposal would have also paved the way for smaller TV stations to own newspapers. Now under Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC said 12/16 it has taken the item off the table while it reassesses the issue.
O’Rielly went on to say the FCC has “abused” its power to regulate the Internet under the Telecommunications Act. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules earlier this month. Although O’Rielly is a critic of the rules, he wasn’t happy with the ruling because it left most of the FCC’s authority over the Internet intact.
The rules required Internet providers to treat all Web traffic equally, but O’Rielly predicted that the demise of the regulations won’t mean that providers will begin blocking or degrading access to websites, noted a National Review story: “I don’t see the marketplace dramatically changing going forward. I would be reluctant to impose new obligations in this space.”
RBR-TVBR observation: One must look at the original intent of ownership rules and ask if they remain relevant. These rules were designed to keep one voice from dominating a market. In this age of digital media there is no longer any predominant voice and there should be no concerns about whether or not newspapers own other media. These are antiquated rules. TV ownership expansion could bring new investment into the broadcast business and see the creation of super media conglomerates which own all legacy media in a market… newspaper, radio and television. The concern many have, of course, is too much power in one place, but also too much risk of failure if the operator fails. The FCC needs to reduce impediments to business. No other industry is regulated and prevented to the extent of newspaper ownership rules.