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FCC chairman defends position ahead of media rules vote

FCC Chairman Powell:
FCC Chairman Powell: "It's our responsibility not to govern by polls and surveys."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday that commissioners are "very concerned" about media ownership consolidation on the eve of a vote that is expected to relax rules on the issue.

Chairman Michael Powell, who is in favor of easing the restrictions, said the FCC will certainly keep limits in place to balance public interest and a capitalist market.

"I think we're very concerned about media consolidation," he told CNN's "Moneyline with Lou Dobbs." "If we weren't, I think we'd be proposing the elimination of any cap whatsoever ... and we'd rely on antitrust authorities like we do for every other sector of the economy other than media."

The FCC is scheduled to vote June 2 on proposed changes to its rules on multiple ownership of broadcast outlets. Powell is among three FCC commissioners in favor of the changes; two others are against them.

Under the proposed rules, media companies could own enough television stations to reach as much as 45 percent of the U.S. television market. The current maximum is 35 percent.

Media companies would be allowed to own both television stations and newspapers in all but the smallest markets. In large markets, individual companies could own several radio and television stations.

Some waivers have already been seen for years in markets like New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

Powell is pushing the proposals, saying the current restrictions are outdated and from the 1960s and 1970s, when three broadcast networks controlled most of what was seen on television. It was also before the advent of cable and the Internet.

"In 1996, Congress gave us a very difficult task, which is to bring these rules up to date in the modern media marketplace," Powell told CNN.

Opposition to relaxing the rules has brought together strange bedfellows like Common Cause, the National Rifle Association, the liberal National Organization for Women and the conservative Family Research Council.

"When all of us are united on an issue, then one of two things has happened," said Brent Bozell of the Parents' Television Council. "Either the Earth has spun off its axis and we have all lost our minds, or there is universal support for a concept."

On its Web site, Common Cause said the new changes would have the same effects as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which the FCC said would promote competition and reduce regulation in order to give consumers lower prices and higher quality choices.

The controversial act has instead led to rapid consolidation by media conglomerates, its critics charge. Before the act, companies could own at most 40 radio stations; today, broadcasting powerhouse Clear Channel owns more than 1,200 stations.

Though the FCC submitted its proposals for public comment, receiving hundreds of thousands of replies, it held just one public hearing on the issue. That is considered a paltry effort at soliciting public opinion by those who believe the vote will only lead to bigger media and fewer voices.

"I think we have been very open in public. I think we've received an extraordinary amount of public comment," Powell told CNN. "But I do think it's our responsibility not to govern by polls and surveys; it's our responsibility to make a decision when the record is complete. I believe the record is complete."

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