FCC votes to allow some broadcasters to buy more TV stations

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"Instead of taking action to promote competition and deployment, serve the public interest, and prevent the exercise of market power that is a drag on the USA economy, Chairman [Ajit] Pai and Commissioner [Michael] O'Reilly have approved an order that doubles down on incumbent market power, forcing businesses, hospitals, schools and ultimately consumers to pay more for essential connectivity", Berenbroick said.

Commissioners voted 2-1 during the FCC's monthly open meeting to lift agency restrictions on large business data services (BDS) providers like AT&T and Verizon. Reinstating the UHF discount, he said, would give the FCC a "blank slate".

Under FCC Chairman Pai's business broadband deregulation order, BDS markets with one competitor "nearby" or within "a half mile" will be deregulated, a move critics say essentially allows a duopoly and sometimes a monopoly to meet the new Republican FCC's standard for competition.

The UHF discount is a relic of analog broadcasting, when transmitting in the UHF band was less efficient than in VHF.

Both Republicans on the commission - Pai and Mike O'Rielly - voted against killing the discount previous year, though for different reasons. It plans to examine the 39% cap and the UHF discount "later this year".

The move marks yet another departure from the Obama FCC, which sought to strengthen regulations and price caps in ILECs in response to complaints from CLECs about unfair prices and contract terms. Now, UHF stations are considered to be on par with, if not at an advantage to, other stations. Pai's order gets rid of rules that required providers continue supporting old networks and get permission from the FCC before replacing them to protect against any loss of services, which the FCC says will speed up the transition from legacy to IP networks. Prices are going up, and customer service is going down.

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The commission determined that last year's action had the "effect of substantially tightening the national cap for companies without any analysis of whether this tightening was warranted given current marketplace conditions". Clyburn said reinstating the discount could let broadcasters reach up to 78 percent of U.S. households, instead of just 39 percent.

While the streamlining of access to utility poles may have universal support as it helps companies build out next-generation networks, advocacy group Public Knowledge warned one rule change proposal that got less attention could end up doing harm to consumers who still count on existing technologies.

Pai also heard from Congressional Democrats over the past week. After only a few months, for example, Pai ended what he saw as burdensome oversight of the telecomm industry, which he to some degree credits for empowering companies to offer new "unlimited" data plans. "This will not serve the public interest or our democracy well". "And second, consumers could see their cable bills go up because Sinclair charges cable operators more than Tribune for retransmission consent".

"Back in 2013, when the commission began this proceeding, I had a simple request", Pai said.

The commission also adopted a request for comment seeking input on when carriers must obtain FCC permission to alter or discontinue a service and a notice of inquiry that seeks comment on using FCC preemption authority to prohibit the enforcement of state and local laws that pose broadband deployment barriers. So it's very possible that today's action will simply reinstate the UHF discount, without addressing the situation further.

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