FCC OKs ownership rule that should ease buyouts

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made good today on his vow to reinstate a rule that makes it easier for big TV station owners to grow bigger.

The decision could lead to a possible acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc of Tribune Media Co, some Democrats in Congress said.

"Welcome to industry consolidation month at the FCC", Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in her dissent.

"The commission just wrapped up and put a bow on a huge gift for those large broadcasters, with ambitious dreams of more consolidation", she said at the meeting.

The FCC eliminated the discount a year ago under Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

A small group of protesters disrupted the meeting briefly, singing a song indicating they would fight any attempt to water down those rules, which are created to ensure the free flow of internet content.

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In addition, the order allows ILECs to offer volume and term discounts, as well as contract tariffs (known as "Phase I pricing flexibility" under the FCC's old rules).

"With today's vote on business data services, the FCC now stands for Forgetting Choice and Competition", said Senator Markey.

"On the other hand, if the discount and cap increase do not occur in tandem, we think [Tegna, Meredith and E.W. Scripps] could benefit as broadcasters with the ability to combine/add the most reach", Janedis wrote.

In a 2-1 vote, the commission reversed a ruling that would have obliged public broadcasters to provide the names and full Social Security numbers of each director and officer, or their names, addresses, dates of birth and the last four numbers of their Social Security numbers. More of these mergers would choke out competition, leading to price hikes, she said. With Republicans now holding a 2-1 majority, they were able to reverse the change on Thursday.

"In the same order, Pai inexplicably suggests that the commission might even loosen further the generous 39 percent limit, despite the fact that this is bad public policy and explicitly outside of the FCC's jurisdiction", she said.

The FCC plans to readdress the issue later this year.

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But Clyburn said the UHF discount "had outlived its purpose" and reinstating it would allow a broadcast station group to reach up to 78 percent of the nation's TV households.

"There is no justification for the FCC to restore the UHF Loophole", House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and and New Jersey Democrat Rep.

Other groups opposed to business broadband deregulation say the FCC also hasn't taken into account the high cost of running fiber to buildings without existing service, regardless of distance.

Clyburn, who supported Wheeler's efforts to regulate the BDS market differently, voiced strong opposition to the deregulatory order.

"Price regulation is seductive", he said. Dominant telecommunications providers have long abused their incredible market power, and American businesses and consumers have suffered the consequences in the form of reduced economic growth and job creation, lower business investment in new operations and products, and higher prices passed on to consumers for goods and services.

The FCC voted to eliminate price regulations in competitive markets and reduce the rules in noncompetitive ones to try to lure new entrants.

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