FCC Staff: No Call on 35% Cap

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Federal Communications Commission staff will remain neutral on potential
changes to a broadcast-ownership rule at the core of a fierce debate between
three major networks and the affiliates, a senior FCC official said
Thursday.

CBS, NBC and Fox want the FCC to eliminate the rule that bars a station group
from reaching more than 35 percent of TV households nationally. But network
affiliates, fearing domination by the networks, are fighting just as hard to
leave the 35 percent cap right where it is.

Based on guidance from the chairman, FCC staff would normally review the
record and make policy recommendations to the five commissioners.

With regard to the 35 percent rule, the staff will forward the record's
evidence in favor of retention, relaxation and elimination of it and leave it up
to the FCC commissions -- three of whom are Republicans -- to make the policy
call.

"So the best approach is to go to the commissioners and say, `Here it is.
There is a little this, a little this, a little this -- where are you on this?'"
Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree told reporters Thursday on Capitol Hill.
"However they want to come out, the record will support."

Ferree added that the too-close-to-call nature of the debate was key in
deciding against endorsing a particular outcome.

"Here we have sort of an equal amount of conflicting record evidence on both
sides of it. I am not sure that at the bureau level, we feel there is a strong
argument one way or the other," he said.

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