Congress: Restore 35% Cap


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

The reversal also was 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 that 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.

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 do so under FCC waivers. It was not clear whether the waivers would be affected by last week's legislation.

The FCC modified other rules. It allowed a company to own two or three TV stations in 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.