Reach of webs upped in bill

Super-majority rule OK'd for FCC

WASHINGTON — Networks would be able to boost the national coverage of their owned stations to 50% and the FCC would need a super-majority to impose any new regulatory burdens on broadcasters, under a bill drafted by Senate Commerce Committee staffers.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) would like to include the language in a pending bill satcasters are pushing that would make it legal to offer a satellite-delivered package of programming that includes local channels.

In addition to the 4-1 majority needed to pass any additional regulations on broadcasters, the bill also allows the FCC to rescind regulations if there is a simple majority of just one vote.

“I think it is profoundly anti-democratic to ask for a super majority to pass regulation but just a simple majority to deregulate,” said Gigi Sohn, of the Media Access Project.

In addition, the bill would also eliminate the FCC’s authority to review media merger’s such as the AT&T-Tele-Communications Inc. deal which is now pending at the agency.

The bill is still in the discussion draft stage, cautioned McCain’s Commerce Committee spokeswoman, who added that the bill is certain to go through several modifications.

When it comes to relaxing the national ownership cap, broadcasters are divided. The networks would like to see it increase to 50%, but affils are concerned about the power the webs will yield with such a large reach.

On Monday the National Assn. of Broadcasters declined to vote on a network proposal to increase that national cap to 50%.