By Julian Hattem - 03/31/14 04:34 PM EDT
Congressional Democrats are cheering the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) votes to crack down on broadcasters and open up more space for Wi-Fi.
“I thank the FCC for answering my call to rein in the misuse of broadcast television sharing agreements, which has threatened the integrity of the FCC’s media ownership rules,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said in a statement.
Broadcasters sometimes use joint negotiating agreements to share resources in advertising sales or to negotiate with cable and satellite companies over fees for content. Critics claimed that amounted to a loophole that allowed companies to plot business deals together while formally remaining competitors.
“These agreements lack total transparency and the result has been contrary to what FCC’s rules call for,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Commerce panel on Communications.
In a closely watched 3-2 vote on Monday, the FCC placed new limits on those arrangements.
Any broadcast company that sells 15 percent of more of another station’s ads will be counted as an owner of that station. FCC rules limit a single company from owning more than one of the top four stations in a market. Additionally, the top four broadcasters in any media market are prohibited from teaming up for negotiations with cable and satellite companies.
Republicans had lambasted the move, and criticized commission Chairman Tom Wheeler for moving forward with the proposal before finalizing a years-overdue review of its media ownership rules. Both Republican members of the panel opposed the new ownership rules, and said that the crackdown will hurt small stations.
A measure to clear up space for Wi-Fi was met more positively on the commission.
The FCC's unanimous vote to free up space for unlicensed spectrum “is a win for consumers,” Eshoo said.
“It supports greater competition, it improves mobile services, and it enhances innovation,” she added.