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FCC pair relax on regs

FCC commissioners James Quello and Andrew Barrett said Tuesday they are amenable to relaxing broadcast station ownership rules.

Their remarks were made during a panel discussion at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention here, where Barrett said that “anyone who thinks changes should not be considered clearly does not understand changes in the marketplace.”

FCC rules bar broadcasters from owning more than 12 TV stations, 12 FM radio stations and 12 AM stations. The regs also set a 25% national ownership reach for TV station owners.

“Clearly, changes should be made,” said Barrett. “The question is, how far do you go?”

Quello agreed, although he predicted an easing of the rules will be “more evolutionary than revolutionary.” Quello said he will meet with House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) to sound out congressional concerns on the subject.

Two years ago, former FCC chairman Al Sikes’ attempt to broadly deregulate broadcast ownership regs was shot down in Congress.

Also appearing on the panel discussion with Barrett and Quello was Tom Sugrue , deputy administrator of the NTIA, a Commerce Dept. agency that advises the White House on telecommunications matters.

Sugrue said the Clinton administration has taken no position on easing broadcast ownership rules, but it supports an FCC examination of the issue.

Sugrue also enthusiastically endorsed broadcast industry participation on the information superhighway. The NTIA exec’s comments were notable, since broadcasters have frequently complained of being snubbed by the White House in their efforts to become infopike players.

The White House also supports “spectrum flexibility” for broadcasters as they make the transition to delivery of high definition TV, according to Sugrue, so long as the principal intent of TV stations is to maintain public interest responsibilities.

Support for spectrum flexibility will have to be reexamined if broadcasters shirk their public service commitments, said Sugrue. Equally important is the pledge that broadcasters will return analog spectrum back to the government once the transition to HDTV is complete, he said.

Quello drew applause when he said he opposes reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, the rule tossed out by the FCC in 1987 that required broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues.

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