Congress Agrees: Restore 35% Cap

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Congressional Republicans dealt a setback to ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox Wednesday night by reversing the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to raise the national broadcast-ownership cap to 45%.

The reversal was also a challenge to the White House, which has at least twice promised to veto legislation that attempted to alter any of the FCC’s new broadcast-ownership rules.

The change, which would restore the cap to 35%, was included in a massive spending bill Congress cobbled together as one of the last bills it would present to President Bush before adjourning for the year.

The FCC voted for the new cap in June, allowing one TV-station owner to reach 45% of U.S. TV households. The old 35% cap had been rejected by a federal court in 2002, forcing the agency to give the rule another look.

The FCC raised the cap over the strong objections of the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents hundreds of independent network affiliates that have had a tension-filled relationship with the four major networks for many years.

Spokespersons for CBS, NBC and Fox declined to comment.

If Bush signs the bill, the FCC would be required to enforce the 35% cap for one year. CBS and Fox both reach 40%, but they do so under FCC waivers. It was not clear whether the waiver would be affected by the legislation.

The FCC modified other rules. It allowed a company to own two or three TV stations in one market, depending on the size of the city, and it removed the 1975 ban on the common ownership of a newspaper and TV station in the same local market.

In September, a federal court issued an order keeping the old rules in place while it heard challenges to the new ones. A few weeks later, the Senate voted 55-40 for a resolution overturning the FCC’s rules.

House leaders have blocked a vote on an identical resolution.

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