FCC head defends broadcaster crackdown

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler is defending a controversial move to limit broadcast companies’ ability to cooperate as merely an attempt to defend the laws on the book.

At a summit put on the by the American Cable Association on Wednesday, Wheeler accused broadcasters of carrying on a “charade”  to skirt the rules.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out,” he told the supportive cable industry crowd.

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“This concept of competition and diversity and localism was being undone by legal legerdemain,” he said.

“It makes no sense to create a situation where you own a broadcast license, I want to get control of that license but I can’t because I own another station in town, and I’ll tell you what, I’m going to buy 90 percent of all of your assets...  and you keep the license because that makes you the owner.”

Defenders of the broadcaster cooperation deals, known as joint service agreements, say that they allow small companies to compete in a tough marketplace. The agreements enable broadcasters to control another station’s advertising sales.

On Monday, the FCC voted 3-2 to place strict limits on those agreements. Under the commission’s proposal, any station that controls another’s ad sales is considered to own the station. Existing FCC rules prohibit one company from owning more than one of the top four stations in a market. 

Republicans in Congress and on the FCC have opposed the measure and say it will hurt small and minority-owned companies.

“What we were trying to do was say: ‘Look, this is harmful to competition. It is harmful to the marketplace of broadcast transactions,’” Wheeler said.

“There is a set of rules, a set of concepts, that have been hallowed in communications law. We’re trying to stick to those concepts and say how do those apply in this world?”

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