Rockefeller concerned about TV mergers

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is urging the Federal Communications Commission to take a hard look at the business deals between TV stations.

FCC rules limit the number of stations a single company can own in a local market. 

In a letter to the FCC Monday, Rockefeller expressed concern that TV stations are using "shared services agreements" to sidestep the FCC's rules. The agreements allow a company to control many of the operations of a station without technically assuming full ownership.

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Rockefeller urged the FCC to hold up any applications involving shared services arrangements or similar deals until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) can complete a study on the issue. Rockefeller first asked the GAO to study shared services agreements in May.

"Given the current questions about the impacts of SSAs on the broadcast landscape, the FCC should approach each of the pending transactions cautiously," Rockefeller wrote. 

"While I am not taking a position on any particular transactions, I believe that the FCC should collect all information necessary to understand the scope and effect of the SSAs envisioned by the deals."

He argued that TV stations are "stewards of the nation's airwaves" and have a responsibility to promote the public interest.

"And I will be watching your actions closely to make sure that your review of media ownership activity properly comports with diversity, localism, and ultimately the public interest," Rockefeller wrote in the letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said shared services agreements "result in more local news and stronger finances at struggling stations that otherwise might have gone out of business."

"The pay TV lobby has targeted SSAs for one reason only: to eliminate competition from a TV provider that provides a free and local service," Wharton said.

Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has also defended the use of shared services agreements.

—Updated at 9:32 a.m.