Newport, R.I. -- A top Federal Communications Commission official said
Thursday that he was not surprised by the House vote Wednesday that overturned
in part the FCC's far-reaching overhaul of broadcast-ownership rules.
"It really isn't surprising," said Kenneth Ferree, chief of the FCC's Media
Bureau, who played a major role in drafting the new rules. "Congress can change
the law. That's what they do. They are Congress."
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee voted to restore to 35% the
number of TV households nationally that a TV-station group may reach with its
signals. On June 2, the FCC voted to raise the cap to 45%, triggering a backlash
on Capitol Hill and within the broadcast industry itself.
Ferree discussed the issue as a panelist at the New England Cable &
Telecommunications Association convention here.
The FCC vote effectively allowed ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox to own more TV
stations around the country -- a potential increase in ownership that
independent network affiliates viewed as giving the networks more power over
them at the bargaining table.
The broadcast-ownership issue produced a partisan split at the FCC, with the
three Republicans sticking together to overtake the two Democrats. GOP FCC
chairman Michael Powell made revision of the broadcast-ownership rules one of
his top priorities.
"We started this process trying to make it -- I know there are cynical people
out there -- as nonpolitical as we could make it," Ferree said. "I think the
product we produced was faithful to both the facts and the law."
Many in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, want the FCC to scrap the
June 2 rules and craft new ones that are far less deregulatory.
"If they end up changing the law, that's fine, and we do what they tell us to
do," Ferree said.
Both the House and Senate appeared to be well down the path toward reversing
the FCC in whole or in part, but it was unclear whether the White House would
use the veto threat to rescue Powell, whom Bush appointed FCC chairman in
"I can't begin to handicap the chances of any of this legislation ultimately
becoming law at this point," Ferree said.