Final Versions of FCC Ownership Rules Released

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The Federal Communications Commission (search) on Wednesday released final versions of its media ownership rules, a move expected to trigger a response from lawmakers who already are fighting the measures.

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 in total nearly half the nation's viewers, and combinations of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same city.

The agency's chairman, Michael Powell (search), said in a statement released with the 257-page document that the FCC succeeded in "building modern rules that take proper account of the explosion of new media outlets for news, information and entertainment, rather than perpetuate the graying rules of a bygone black and white era."

His comments echoed those of many media companies that said changes were needed because the old restrictions hindered their ability to grow and compete in a market changed by cable television, satellite broadcasts and the Internet.

Critics say the rules will lead to mergers that could put just a few companies in control of what most people see, hear and read.

"I am convinced this is the wrong decision," said Michael Copps, one of two Democrats on the commission who voted against the rules. "It is wrong for the media industry, wrong for the public interest and wrong for America."

Last month, the Senate Commerce Committee (search) voted for a bill that would overturn the FCC changes. While passed by a bipartisan majority, the bill faces an uncertain future in the full Senate and strong resistance in the House.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., have said that after Congress is notified of the finished rules, they will introduce a little-used "resolution of disapproval" to reverse the FCC decision. That measure would need majority approval in the Senate and House and the president's signature.

"These new rules are wrong headed and will result in more consolidation and less competition in broadcasting," Dorgan said in a statement.

Commissioner Kevin Martin, a Republican, said the final rules have been edited to correct "weaknesses in reasoning." He said the changes address the sale of radio stations, restrictions on local television station ownership and inconsistencies in how markets are defined.

Gene Kimmelman of Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine, said the rules are designed to favor large media companies and his group may challenge the rules in court unless they are revised by the commission.