FCC Votes to Allow Broadcasters to Buy More TV Stations

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday accelerated its deregulation push under Republican control, voting to ease limits on broadcast TV ownership and prices that large telecom companies can charge businesses and governments for bulk broadband services.

"What today's order does is open the door to immediate price hikes for small business data services".

Outside the vote, the FCC also proposed several rules on which it is seeking public comment, including a plan to simplify how broadband internet providers attach their wires to utility poles to build out their networks.

The commission's 2-1 party-line vote ends price caps on much of the BDS market across the US, while retaining price regulations in about a third of the country.

The FCC today opted not to regulate pricing for most business data services and began a process aimed at making it easier for service providers to retire copper networks.

Supporters argued the FCC analyzed massive troves of data on the BDS market across the country and determined there is "strong competition" in the industry, justifying deregulation. The EU's ambassador to the United States wrote to the FCC this week arguing the agency's move on business data services would favor USA players in the industry worldwide, and could violate the United States' compliance with World Trade Organization regulatory norms. The regulations require incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to lease portions of their networks to smaller competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) like Sprint and Level 3 at regulated rates to boost competition.

"Price regulation - that is, the government setting the rates, terms and conditions for special access services - is seductive", he said. "Despite data collected by the FCC indicating that approximately 73 percent of BDS locations may only being served by one provider, and the Small Business Administration raising serious concerns about its impact on small businesses, the Commission has forged ahead to the detriment of consumers". The price cap would also go away if a cable broadband provider serves 75 percent of locations in the county. The vote was 2-1, with Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn dissenting. Especially hard-hit would be those in rural areas: "Cash-strapped hospitals, schools, libraries and police departments will pay even more for vital connectivity, and soon we will see pressure on our rural health care funding, resulting in less bandwidth".

"Just where does the buck stop?"

"What I fear in upending the longstanding practice of granting waivers on a case-by-case basis, is that we are opening the floodgates to a future, where the unique nature of noncommercial educational stations could be degraded", she said.

The FCC action comes after some tech-related trade groups, lawmakers, and consumer-oriented groups Public Knowledge and the Consumer Federation of America called for the FCC to delay the vote.

There had been plenty of last-minute pushback by critics, from the European Union to competitive carriers to congressional Democrats and consumer groups, but the two FCC Republican commissioners had the votes to push through the deregulatory item, asserting that competition in the marketplace was "strong".

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