SENATE VOTES TO BLOCK PART OF MEDIA OWNERSHIP RULES

Looks to Roll Back TV Station Ownership Cap to 35%

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A day after an appellate court blocked the Federal Communications Commission new media ownership rules, a Senate committee voted to overturn one part of the new rules that would have allowed national media companies to own more TV stations.

Appropriations bill
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday inserted language into an FCC appropriations bill that would prevent the FCC from allowing one broadcaster to own TV stations reaching 45% of the nation's households, up from the current 35%. Because the FCC discounts the reach of UHF stations in calculating the limit, consumer groups have contended that the 45% figure would allow a single company to reach 90% of U.S. households.

News Corp. and Viacom each are already over the limit but have been allowed to hold onto stations pending the new FCC ownership rules. The House inserted similar language into its version of the FCC appropriations bill.

Controversial rule
While consumer groups have questioned

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many of the changes approved by the FCC, the ownership caps have been controversial with local station owners who have argued that they would give networks too much power. The issue caused a split in the National Association of Broadcasters as networks supporting the easing fought with station owners who were in opposition.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, had proposed the ban, which was added to the appropriations bill with little debate.

Sen. Stevens, however, said he would oppose efforts to overturn the FCC rules. The Senate is expected to vote next week on a "resolution of disapproval" to overturn all the FCC rules.

Consumer groups and some senators today questioned overturning just the one rule.

'Mystified by the inconsistency'
"I continue to be mystified by the inconsistency of separating the national television broadcast ownership cap from the local broadcast limits in legislation -- an action that seems only to serve the members of the National Association of Broadcasters," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz. He also questioned use of the appropriations process to rewrite communications law.

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