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FCC plans vote in November over loosening limits on media ownership

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai arrives for his confirmation hearing for a second term as chair of the commission before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission is planning to vote in November on proposals to roll back ownership rules that were meant to support diverse voices in local media.

The newspaper and broadcasting industries have pushed for changes to the rules as they face growing online competition. Critics say dropping the rules will encourage media consolidation and hurt local voices and diversity.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Wednesday at a congressional hearing that he wants to eliminate rules that, among other things, bar a company from owning both newspapers and TV stations in one market. It’s been in place since 1975 but exceptions have been allowed.

He also proposed scrapping limits on owning both local radio and TV stations, and would make it easier for one company to own more than one broadcast TV station in one market.

“The marketplace today is nothing like it was in 1975,” Pai said, adding that newspapers are shutting down and broadcast TV and radio stations are struggling, while competition from the internet, where Google and Facebook dominate in digital advertising, is rising.

Republicans outnumber Democrats on the five-member the FCC, suggesting Pai has the support to change the rules. Democrats on the commission and in Congress have criticized efforts to undo or ease the rules.

The head of the National Association of Broadcasters, Dennis Wharton, said Wednesday that the limits have hurt TV broadcasters.

He said the NAB supports Pai’s plan, and looks forward “to rational media ownership rules that foster a bright future for broadcasters.” It’s expected that rolling back the FCC limits will allow companies that own TV stations to get bigger.

The FCC is currently reviewing a takeover deal between Sinclair and Tribune Media, two TV station owners. Pai has already allowed one rule change that eased the way for Sinclair by permitting it to reach more households than was otherwise allowed. It would reach more than 70 percent of American households if the Tribune Media deal goes through.

Companies like Sinclair own TV stations that run programming from the major networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, around the country.

The head of Free Press, an advocacy group that fights against media consolidation, said that Pai’s plan will hurt independent news sources.

“We need to strengthen local voices and increase viewpoint diversity, not surrender our airwaves to an ever-smaller group of giant conglomerates,” Craig Aaron said in a statement. He said Pai’s proposals will face opposition at the FCC and in the courts.

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