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Dem raises warning over TV ownership rider sneaking into spending bill

Dem raises warning over TV ownership rider sneaking into spending bill
© Greg Nash

Outside tech advocates have been warning Congress for weeks against including any provisions targeting net neutrality in a final spending bill, but one Democrat is raising alarms about another potential provision aimed at separate Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules.  

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) called on appropriators to not alter TV ownership rules the FCC passed last year, which deal with joint sales agreements between broadcast stations. 

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“A lack of ownership diversity, in particular, continues to plague the broadcast industry,” she wrote in prepared remarks before a media ownership hearing. “It is with this in mind that I express my deep concern with any effort through the appropriations process that would seriously undermine the FCC's media ownership rules and our efforts to promote greater broadcast ownership diversity.

“I oppose such policy riders and urge my colleagues to do the same,” she wrote at another point.  

Leadership and appropriators are haggling over a series of policy riders that will be included in a spending bill that must pass by next Friday in order to fund the government. A final deal has not been reached, and almost no one knows which riders will be included. 

Republicans and even some Democrats have raised concerns about rules the FCC passed last year to close a loophole that allowed companies to have an ownership stake in two major broadcast TV stations in the same market. 

Broadcast owners are not allowed to control a stake in more than one major station in any market. But the FCC found that broadcasters could get around that by striking joint sales agreements, in which one station controls much of the advertising sales on multiple stations. The FCC ruled that any company selling at least 15 percent of ad time at a station has an ownership stake, closing off the loophole.

The FCC gave broadcasters until early 2016 to unwind those deals. But broadcasters and their powerful lobbying arm oppose the rules, and have called on Congress to act.  

Appropriators in the House and Senate included provisions in stand-alone appropriations bills earlier this year that would prevent those rules from applying retroactively, meaning the deals in place before the rules took effect would be grandfathered in. During a House committee markup, even a handful of Democrats supported the provision. 

While those appropriations bills never reached the House or Senate floor, many of the provisions and riders included are acting as a starting point in current negotiations.

The issue does not break down along clear party lines. Lead Democrats and appropriators in the Senate cosponsored the stand-alone legislation. Those include, Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (N.Y.), Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave MORE (Ill.) and Ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line MORE (Md.).