Ignoring broadcaster complaints, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is moving forward with plans to heavily restrict TV station owners' ability to jointly manage multiple stations in smaller markets.
Regulators are expected to approve new rules later this month that would sharply curtail the use of "joint sales agreements," which have become a popular broadcaster method of skirting national ownership limits, that restrict companies from owning more than one major station in a market.
Broadcasters currently operating stations under the sales agreements would be required to unwind those deals within two years, FCC officials said Thursday. Stations could ask for waivers, but those would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The proposal represents a reversal of the FCC's almost decade-long effort to slightly loosen media ownership rules during a time in which an increasing number of consumers get their information on the Internet instead of via dead trees or TV antennas. Three previous FCC chairmen — Democrat Julius Genachowski and Republicans Kevin Martin and Michael Powell — all endorsed various proposals to loosen those rules.
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The FCC's Wheeler, a former cable lobbyist, has reversed course and suggested keeping current limits in place while restricting practices that TV station owners have used to cut costs and get more leverage in negotiations on fees that cable providers pay for the right to air local channels.
The agency will also propose limits to prevent local station owners from jointly renegotiating deals with pay-TV providers. That would help stop the rise in such fees, FCC officials said Thursday.
—By Amy Schatz, Re/code.net.
CNBC's parent NBC Universal is an investor in Re/code's parent Revere Digital, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.