Debate favors elite

Variety editorial

Believe it or not, there are roughly 43 million Americans who rely on broadcast, not cable, for televised news and entertainment. Many can’t afford steep cable or satcasting rates, much less Internet service.

Pushing to relax broadcast ownership rules, Federal Communications Commission Michael Powell says regulation isn’t needed now that there is so much competition in the TV biz. He speaks as if broadcast and pay TV are interchangeable. They are not.

Powell also talks as if the Internet is interchangeable with broadcast. This is a naive view, if not a condescending one. Hooking up to the Internet is hardly free — nor is the computer needed to go online.

Not every American can afford to pay the entry free to the 500-channel universe. It would be nice if Capitol Hill lawmakers realized this in time to challenge Powell before the agency votes to loosen the rules.

The big broadcasting guns pushing for the rules to be relaxed like Powell’s argument. Viacom, News Corp. and NBC use it themselves. In light of competition from cable, satcasting and the Internet, media congloms say they should be allowed to buy up as many TV stations as they like, as well as owning multiple outlets in one market. They say that the ownership rules, crafted at a time when the three broadcast networks ruled, are outdated.

More than 89 million Americans pay for their TV service, a formidable number. But as long as broadcasters are given free use of the airwaves in exchange for providing news and public affairs programming, it doesn’t really matter. Free is free.

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