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Democrats Warn FCC Chairman Against Waiving TV Ownership Cap

WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats are warning FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other commissioners against waiving the national TV ownership cap, as the agency considers the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group with Tribune Media and further relaxation of broadcast regulations.

Currently, a company cannot amass a group of stations that reach more than 39% of the country.

The rule regarding ownership, in place since 2004, is an issue in the Sinclair merger, as the combined company would reach 45.5% of the country, according to FCC filings.

“When each of you was sworn in as Commissioners, you swore to faithfully discharge the duties of your office,” Pelosi wrote in a letter, along with Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.). “These obligations include enforcing the laws of the United States as passed by Congress.  The majority of the Commission correctly believes that Congress imposed a 39% national cap for broadcasters and that we did not create any loopholes around this cap.  To comply with your oath, you are required to order divestitures when necessary to stay within the restraints of the law.”

There has been speculation that the FCC will take up the ownership cap at its next meeting on Dec. 14, as Pai and other Republicans have taken aim at a series of broadcast ownership regulations they see as outdated. Pai told reporter last week that a review of the ownership cap was still under consideration, but he declined to say when it would come before the FCC.

The letter seemed to be aimed as much at the controversial merger of Sinclair-Tribune as it was meant to be a warning to Pai and other Republican commissioners that they lacked authority to raise or even eliminate the ownership cap.

In the letter, Pelosi, Pallone and Doyle also referred to comments made by Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, another Republican, on whether the FCC actually had the authority to modify the cap. O’Rielly last year said that he rejected the idea that the FCC could modify the national ownership rule “in any way,” as only Congress had the authority.

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