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Real media reform needed.

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission are bickering over regulations governing media ownership. FCC commissioners this summer eased restrictions on how many broadcast television stations one company could own nationwide, and allowed newspaper owners to purchase a television station in the same city.

The pro-regulation crowd was swift to condemn the decison.

Diverse consumers do want "diversity," including "localism," among their media choices. But competition, not "public interest" regulation, is the only way to ensure these choices reflect the values and tastes of consumers rather than bureaucrats and special-interests.

To that end, the FCC's action was a positive step for consumers. In an age of cable, satellite, DVD and Internet, greater opportunities for horizontal and vertical integration can enable the media dinosaurs to diversify their offerings.

But real media reform would encompass other measures:

End suppression of microradio--"Diversity, localism and competition" could start by reversing the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act. That act overturned the FCC's modest attempt in 1999 to license low-power "microradio" broadcasters. It cut in half the small number of low-power licenses and barred FCC from eliminating or reducing the "minimum distance separations" between stations on the radio dial. Given advances in technology, that unnecessarily limits the number of new stations. Roll back the digital television mandate--Besides giving away a huge, valuable, swath of spectrum to the very corporations they now worry are becoming too powerful, the federal mandates increase the costs of maintaining a broadcast station by upwards of $1 million. This anti-competitive barrier to entry crowds out smaller stations, the ones that typically offer more diverse and local content.

Kill the death tax--Family-owned local media, whether they be daily newspapers or television stations, are at a distinct disadvantage with national or international corporations. Corporations never die; people do. So, once each generation a family has half its capital confiscated by government.

Any one of these institutional reforms would do more to bring about true competition. But will anyone in the Beltway do anything about them?
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Publication:Consumer Comments
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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