FCC Democrats Seek to Freeze Media Ownership Rules

Democrats on the Federal Communications Commission (search) sought Tuesday to prevent recently relaxed media ownership rules from going into effect in order to allow more time for legislative attempts to reverse the changes.

Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein asked Chairman Michael Powell to allow a commission vote on a temporary stay of the new rules. The regulations go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, an action expected within weeks.

The Republican-controlled FCC eased decades-old restrictions on ownership of newspapers and television and radio stations with a 3-2 party-line vote on June 2. The decision allowed individual companies to own television stations that reach nearly half the nation's viewers and combinations of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same city.

Many media companies said the old restrictions hindered their ability to grow and compete in a market changed by cable television, satellite broadcasts and the Internet. Critics warned the changes will lead to mergers that could put just a few companies in control of what most people see, hear and read.

"A stay would provide us the opportunity to obtain concrete feedback to avoid unintended consequences which could be devastating in an area as fundamental and irreversible as media ownership rules," Copps and Adelstein said in a letter to Powell.

A Powell spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Adelstein also said he discovered a "blunder" within the ownership rules that counts noncommercial TV stations individually even if they just repeat the same public broadcasting signal. He said the problem causes some small communities to be counted as larger markets than big cities, which allows more mergers in those communities.

"Clearly this wasn't what the rules intended," Adelstein said. "The FCC should immediately reconsider and correct this mistake before any mergers are proposed to us."

Earlier Tuesday, Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Trent Lott (search), R-Miss., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., formally introduced a "resolution of disapproval" to undo the FCC's decision. To succeed, the seldom-used legislative maneuver would need majority approval in the Senate and House and the president's signature.

Dorgan and other lawmakers said they have more than the 30 signatures needed to force a vote on the resolution by the full Senate.

However, Dorgan said that move may be unnecessary since Senate Commerce Committee (search) Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., has indicated he will move the resolution quickly through his committee.

McCain spokeswoman Rebecca Hanks said she could not immediately confirm McCain's position.

Dorgan said he would like a vote before Congress' August recess, but it may not come before September.