most of the world's nations, the government owns the spectrum. Traditionally,
in the United States, however, the airwaves "belong to the people".
This idea is central to all of broadcast regulation, including FCC
(Federal Communication Commission) licensing of television stations.
The FCC is concerned that there be diversity of ownership in local
markets, implying that this will ensure a diversity of viewpoints.
It is also wary of media properties being concentrated nationally
in the hands of a few giant conglomerates. Whenever a television
station is sold to a new owner, the FCC must approve the sale and
the transfer of the license to operate.
FCC also considers several criteria in order to identify the applicant
for a television station license that is most likely to broadcast
in the public's interest. These include, citizenship, character,
local ownership, civic involvement, integration of ownership and
management, diversification of management background, prior experience,
and operating plans. If there is more than one applicant for a television
station license, the FCC will normally favor a local applicant who
promises to take an active role in managing the day-to-day operations
of the station, assuming the applicants' other qualifications are
prevent local market monopoly by a single company, the FCC has usually
allowed only one television station per owner/company in a single
the FCC has also imposed national limits on television station ownership
and has placed restrictions on the television station licensee owning
other media outlets in the market, such as a cable company, a newspaper,
or a telephone service. At one time, the number of stations owned
by a single entity was limited to seven stations, five of which
could be VHF channels 2 through 13. The limit was later raised to
allow control of 12 stations by a single owner, provided the potential
audience covered by the stations' signals collectively was not more
than 25% of the national population. The impact of that rule change
effectively limited the big networks from extensive expansion because
their stations were all located in very large markets, bringing
them close to the 25% audience cap already. There are advocates
for eliminating all television station ownership restrictions now,
but such a radical change is unlikely.
FCC does change ownership limits and other restrictions as the need
arises or as the interaction of technology and political pressure
dictate. For example, at one time the FCC rule limited a single
owner to no more than one AM, one FM, and one TV station in a single
local market. Because of the growth of new technologies and the
dominance of television, restrictions on the number of radio stations
one person or company can own in larger markets have been relaxed.
Additionally, cable companies are interested in offering telephone
services, and telephone companies are interested in offering cable
actions by the United States Congress, primarily the passage of
the Telecommunication Act of 1996 have altered many of the rules
and requirements of ownership, enabling much more cross-media ownership
and delivery systems. As a result of this new legislation the FCC
is now in the process of rewriting its the rules governing ownership
and distribution of media services once again. The future portends
vastly increased competition between broadcasters, cable operators,
telephone companies, direct broadcast satellite operators, and newspapers
for ownership of television stations and the delivery of many other
media related delivery systems.
convergence of video, computer, satellite, and digital technologies,
along with the globalization of media communication raises new questions
about media ownership restrictions. Because of economies of scale,
eventual consolidation of television ownership into giant multi-national
conglomerates may be inevitable, making the FCC's citizenship and
local integrated ownership criteria moot.
Edmund L. "Issues of Foreign Ownership Cloud the Future of Fox TV."
New York Times, 3 June 1994.
Plans New TV rule." New York Times, 25 November 1993.
Les. Keeping Your Eye on Television. New York: Pilgrim Press,
Ronald A. Revolution in the Wasteland: Value and Diversity in
Television. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981.
Neal. "Congress, the FCC, and the Search for the Public Trustee."
Law and Contemporary Problems (Dobbs Ferry, New York), Autumn
Harry A. "FCC Extends Minority Ownership Program." Broadcasting
(Washington, D.C.), 8 October 1990.
Alex S. "Gannett Challenge to FCC Rules." New York Times,
16 September 1991.
Marilyn E. "Even In Public Television, Ownership Changes Matter."
Communication Research (Newbury Park, California), December
Dennis. Networks of Power: Corporate TVs Threat To Democracy.
Boston: South End Press, 1994.
Ian M. "Barring Foreigners from Our Airwaves: An Anachronistic Pothole
on the Global Information Highway." Columbia Law Review (New
York), June 1995.
Christopher. The King of Cash: The Inside Story of Laurence A.
Tisch and How He Bought CBS. New York: J. Wiley, 1995.
Communications Commission; License;
Station and Station Group; United
States: Networks; U.S.
Policy: Communication Act of 1934; U.S.
Policy: Telecommunications Act of 1996