Week ahead in tech: FCC takes aim at media ownership rules

Week ahead in tech: FCC takes aim at media ownership rules
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On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will be voting to eliminate a number of restrictions on media ownership.

The rules on the chopping block include prohibitions against the common ownership of both a newspaper and broadcast station in the same market. The restrictions, which have been in place for more than 40 years, are aimed at ensuring that communities have access to a diverse set of news outlets.

But Ajit Pai, the FCC's Republican chairman, says that the rules are outdated and prevent news organizations from being competitive in a market where ad dollars are being vacuumed up by internet giants like Facebook and Google.

"This rule was established in 1975 with the stated purpose of preserving and promoting a diversity of viewpoints," Pai wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times on Thursday.

"Arguably, it made sense at the time. But with the internet now dominating the news landscape, the rule is no longer needed, and may actually be undermining the diversity of viewpoints it was intended to foster."

But critics say the change will lead to increased media consolidation, shutting out smaller, independent owners from the market.

"He's fulfilling a longstanding industry wish list and ignoring how decades of runaway media consolidation have significantly harmed local news and independent voices," said Free Press CEO Craig Aaron in a statement last month. "The FCC has routinely failed -- and been repeatedly scolded by the courts for doing so -- to consider how gutting these rules will impact already abysmally low levels of broadcast ownership by women and people of color."

"We need to strengthen local voices and increase viewpoint diversity, not surrender our airwaves to an ever-smaller group of giant conglomerates," Aaron added.

Critics also say that provisions in Pai's proposal will help Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of local television stations, push through its acquisition of Tribune Media. The deal, which is currently pending FCC approval, would give Sinclair access to 77 percent of the nation's television audience. The conservative-leaning company is already the country's largest owner of local TV stations.

Opponents have also pointed to other moves at the FCC that seem designed to help Sinclair clear regulatory roadblocks.

Pai and his Republican allies have denied that the media deregulatory moves were aimed at helping any one company.

The FCC meeting isn't the only big item on the tech agenda in the coming week.

On Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources committee will hold a hearing exploring recovery efforts in Puerto Rico at 9:30 a.m. Major technology and telecom firms, including Uber and Verizon, have donated resources and money to recover efforts. Tesla in particular has provided its battery packs and solar energy products to help bring energy back to the island.

The Senate Health Committee on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. will hold a hearing examining gene editing technology.

Also on Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. to explore the intersection of technology and agriculture with a focus on data-driven farming.

On the House side, on Monday the Rules Committee will hold a conference report on the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes controversial provisions for government procurement that Amazon has lobbied for. Critics worry the provision will help Amazon get a stranglehold on the market for government acquisitions.

On Tuesday, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on boosting cybersecurity per a directive from the Department of Homeland Security at 10:00 a.m.

Also, the House Administration Committee will hold a hearing at 10:00 a.m. on preventing sexual harassment in the congressional workplace, an issue the tech industry has also struggled with after allegations from former Uber employee Susan Fowler.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing on cyber threat information sharing at 2:00 p.m.

That afternoon also at 2:00 p.m., the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act.

On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing examining the benefits of 5G wireless broadband.


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