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FCC to consider allowing more consolidation of TV broadcasters

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Speaks At American Enterprise Institute Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Next month is gonna be a big one at the FCC. In addition to getting rid of net neutrality, the commission will also vote on a proposal to begin reconsidering the broadcast ownership cap. Depending on what the commission decides next year, the outcome could lead to far more consolidation of local TV stations, resulting in fewer independent voices.

The FCC has something called the “national TV ownership rule” that prevents one company from owning broadcast TV stations that reach more than 39 percent of US households. Due to some loopholes (that are at least somewhat related to the 1989 Weird Al film UHF), broadcasters can already reach more than 39 percent of households, though it requires some careful purchasing. The commission seems ready to do away with this loophole and instead just raise the cap — if not get rid of it altogether.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has been skeptical of the need for an ownership cap in 2017. While the cap helps protect independent voices in broadcast TV, Pai has argued that it makes no sense when these companies are competing with nationwide cable networks and global online news sources. The internet enables everyone to reach a huge audience, the argument goes, so a rule like this is no longer necessary.

But there’s still been concern, since broadcast TV is a limited resource and serves different audiences. In particular, focus has been on the broadcasting giant Sinclair, which is butting up against the media cap and is looking to continue expanding. The company has been criticized for forcing its affiliates to play wildly slanted right-wing segments, and it looks like Sinclair is nearing in on becoming another conservative media giant.

Whether that happens will depend in part on the outcome of the FCC’s forthcoming proposal. It’ll be voted on at the commission’s December 14th meeting, after which the public will be able to comment for several months. The commission will release a final proposal sometime next year.