Cap petition kaput

U.S. won't fight ban on looser ownership rules

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to loosen media ownership rules appears dead.

The Office of the Solicitor General of the U.S. announced Thursday it will not appeal a federal court order blocking the less restrictive media ownership rules issued last year by the FCC.

“We will not be petitioning the Supreme Court for certiorari in the FCC case,” said John Nowacki, a spokesman for the Justice Dept., in a one-sentence statement.

“The Solicitor General’s decision says we did not have a good case,” said Jonathan Adelstein, a Democratic commissioner who originally opposed loosening the rules. “It affirms the (federal) court’s decision that the rules were poorly reasoned and inconsistent with the law.”

FCC chairman Michael Powell, who will leave his post in March, championed the rules, which would have raised the cap on how many TV stations one company can own and loosened duopoly rules to allow companies to own multiple media outlets in one market. The commission divided along party lines when it voted 3-2 to approve them in June 2003.

But the new rules never went into effect. Consumer activists attacked them as anticompetitive, and Congress suspended part of them. A federal court then blocked the remainder, saying the FCC had failed to justify the majority of changes. The court ordered the commission to rewrite the rules accordingly.

Large media companies, which stood to benefit from the relaxed ownership rules, supported them. NBC Universal, News Corp. and Viacom recently announced their intention to join the Tribune Co. in asking the Supreme Court to take the case and reverse the lower court decision.

The Supreme Court could still take the case, but insiders doubt it. “If the government isn’t going to defend its own rules, why should the Supreme Court take the case, especially when it only takes maybe 1% of the cases it’s asked to?” said a telecom analyst. “It’s not impossible, but it’s very unlikely.”

Theoretically, the FCC could on its own petition the Supreme Court, but that is not expected. “I highly doubt it,” Adelstein said.