The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led by chairman Ajit Pai, has repealed a series of broadcast ownership regulations that could pave the way for greater consolidation in the media industry.
The regulations were first put in place in the 1970s to ensure that a diversity of voices and opinions could be heard on the air or in print.
But Pai believes those rules were keeping the media industry out of the digital age since they don't take into account how the media industry has changed over the years, which has seen traditional media outlets facing rising competition from the likes of blogs, websites and podcasts.
“Few of the FCC's rules are staler than our broadcast ownership regulations,” Pai said. By eliminating them, he said, “this agency finally drags its broadcast ownership rules to the digital age.”
One of the long-standing rules that was repealed on Thursday (16 November) prevented one company in a given media market from owning both a daily newspaper and a TV station. Another rule blocked TV stations in the same market from merging with each other if the combination would leave fewer than eight independently-owned stations. The agency also repealed rules restricting the number of TV and radio stations that any media company could simultaneously own in a single market.
The news will be welcomed by telco giant AT&T, which is currently awaiting approval from the Trump administration for its proposed takeover of media conglomerate Time Warner, as well as Comcast and Verizon, which are reportedly looking to buy 21st Century Fox assets from owner Rupert Murdoch.
Trump's antitrust stance has loosened since he took up office in January. During the presidential election race, the businessman said AT&T's deal to buy Time Warner “puts too much concentration of power in the hands of too few", and "will not be approved in my administration".
Under the Trump administration, the FCC has made a number of decisions that favor a lighter style of regulation than was in force during Barack Obama's presidency.
This has included a vote to overturn “net neutrality” rules that ban internet service providers (ISPs) from controlling the public's access to certain sites.
The ‘open internet’ rules were enacted in 2015 under Obama’s government. Those rules banned internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing some web traffic to favor their own content or a paying customer’s.
Republicans say the Obama-era regulation discourages investment and handicaps broadband companies. Democrats say they’re needed to prevent unfair treatment of web traffic by companies that control access to homes and smartphones.