Kenneth Ferree, chief of the Federal Communication Commission’s Media Bureau, who helped to craft controversial broadcast-ownership rules ultimately blocked from taking effect, is leaving the agency in early March, sources said Monday.
Ferree informed his staff in an e-mail Monday that he plans to depart March 4, about the same time as FCC chairman Michael Powell.
Powell announced Friday that he was exiting the agency sometime in March after four years as chairman.
Ferree was Powell’s point man on a number of key issues.
Last year, Ferree and his staff created a plan to end TV broadcasting’s transition of digital-only transmission by Dec. 31, 2008 -- a proposal the National Association of Broadcasters is trying to defeat as too friendly to the cable industry and too hostile to consumers who have not purchased digital receivers.
Powell and Ferree were not always in accord on policy. Ferree, for example, supported multicasting -- a requirement that cable systems carry every free programming service provided by a digital-TV station. Powell, in contrast, opposed that idea.
In June 2003, Powell and Ferree tried to relax broadcast-ownership rules in a plan that would have allowed one company to own more TV stations, radio stations, newspapers and cable systems in the same market.
The media rules sparked a large controversy, with consumer and public-interest groups complaining that the FCC was catering to the wishes of industry and exaggerating the impact of the Internet on competition and diversity.
However, TV broadcasters were divided over the plan. NAB members affiliated but not owned by the four major TV networks bitterly opposed the FCC’s decision to move the national audience-reach cap to 45%.
Congress rolled back the 45% cap to 39%, and a Federal Appeals Court rejected nearly all of the rest of the plan. The FCC and the Department of Justice are pondering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.