NAB Backs Hill Mover to Reset 35% Cap

6/15/2003 8:00 PM Eastern

Local TV stations are throwing their weight behind legislation that would reverse a change in broadcast ownership rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission a week ago Monday.

In a widely expected change, the FCC agreed on June 2 to allow a TV-station group to reach 45% of all U.S. TV households, up from 35%. The National Association of Broadcasters strongly opposed the change, because its TV station members fear a 45% cap would allow the four major broadcast networks to own more stations and dominate their affiliates.

The NAB Television Board voted June 11 to support House and Senate bills that would restore the 35% cap. Both Viacom Inc. (owner of the CBS Television Network and TV stations) and News Corp. (owner of the Fox network and TV stations) are both over the cap. The legislation would require both companies to sell stations to get below it.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Senate Commerce Committee chairman, has promised to allow his panel to vote on the 35% cap bill (S. 1046) on June 19.

Sens. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) are chief sponsors of the bill.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said the lawmaker planned to use the June 19 markup to offer amendments intended to repeal cross-ownership limits relaxed by the FCC.

Under new FCC rules, a TV station and a newspaper are permitted to merge in any market that has at least four TV stations, and two TV stations may merge in any market that has at least five stations, though combinations among the four top-rated stations are prohibited.

Dorgan's plan could complicate the NAB's lobbying on the 35% cap bill.

The NAB TV Board said it would endorse lowering the cap from 45% to 35% to the extent it did not jeopardize deregulation it supported, such as the FCC's broad repeal of the newspaper-TV station cross-ownership ban and relaxation of the local TV station ownership rule.

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