| WASHINGTON, April 19
WASHINGTON, April 19 The top Democrat in the
U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday urged the Federal
Communications Commission to cancel a vote scheduled for
Thursday on a measure to reverse a 2016 rule that limits the
number of television stations some broadcasters can buy.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi warned that the changes
could be harmful to consumers, hitting their wallets and their
access to an independent media voice, as she cited press reports
of a possible acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc
of Tribune Media Co stations.
Under rules adopted in 1985, stations with weaker
over-the-air signals could be partially counted against a
broadcaster's ownership cap. But last year, the FCC under
Democratic President Barack Obama said those rules were outdated
after the 2009 conversion to digital broadcasting - which
eliminated the differences in station signal strength - and
revoked them in September.
Federal law limits companies to owning stations serving no
more than 39 percent of U.S. television households; there is a
dispute over whether the FCC has the authority to amend the
The 2016 decision did not require any company to sell
existing stations, but could bar new acquisitions.
Twenty-First Century Fox Inc in September challenged
the FCC rule in federal court.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in March that he wanted to repeal
the Obama FCC decision and "launch a comprehensive review of the
national ownership cap" later this year.
In a letter, Pelosi and Representative Frank Pallone, who is
the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee,
urged Pai to drop the plan, which could allow the
"That would be bad news for consumers in Tribune’s markets
in two ways: First, consumers would lose an independent voice in
their media market; and second, consumers could see their cable
bills go up because Sinclair charges cable operators more than
Tribune for retransmission consent," they wrote.
Another Democrat, Representative Anna Eshoo, wrote Pai
asking him to drop the plan, saying that further consolidation
"will ensure there are fewer independent news outlets serving as
a counter-balance to misleading or inaccurate information."
Tribune and a spokesman for Pai both declined comment.
Reuters reported in March that Sinclair had approached
Tribune to discuss a potential combination, in a deal that would
hinge on regulations being relaxed.
Pai's broad FCC ownership review could launch a new wave of
consolidation in the broadcast television industry, analysts and
CBS Corp lobbyist John Orlando urged the FCC in
January to reverse the Obama decision and reinstate the prior
rule, citing increased competition.
"Time is of the essence in providing broadcasters the
ownership breathing room they so desperately need to compete
with other video services," he said, according to a CBS FCC
filing. "Our industry has been frozen in time for more than
three years.... Since then, our video competitors have marched
on unfettered by ownership limits," he said, referring to online
outlets and cable companies.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Jessica
Toonkel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)