The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved two controversial measures yesterday, the first capping any pay-TV provider’s market share at 30 percent, and the second relaxing media cross-ownership rules.
The board passed both measures despite cautions from some in Congress to reconsider, cautions that included a threat from Rep. John Dingell of an investigation into the way Chairman Kevin Martin has been managing the FCC.
Martin gained the support of the two Democratic appointees of the board to win a 3-2 vote on the cap by framing the issue as a move to ensure programming diversity. “The 30 percent cable horizontal ownership limit set by the Commission will ensure that no single cable operator can create a barrier to a video programming network’s entry into the market or cause a video programming network to exit the market simply by declining to carry the network,” the FCC’s statement on the subject reads.
In the short term, the subscriber cap will serve only to keep Comcast, the only company even close to a 30 percent market share, from buying other sizable cable companies.
By imposing the cap, Martin is antagonizing his Republican colleagues, who object to the cap on philosophical and free-market grounds. People across the political spectrum are publicly wondering why the chairman is wasting time and political capital on the subject, given that a similar effort to impose a 30 percent cap in 2001 was challenged in court and unambiguously rejected.
The cable industry expects to sue to have this new attempt likewise overturned.
The cross-ownership ruling will eliminate rules that prohibit a single company from owning both a newspaper and a TV station in the same market; the proposal was to lift the rule only in the top 20 markets.