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Proposal on Media Ownership Rules Has Significant Changes

By Stephen Labaton

THE NEW YORK TIMES

WASHINGTON

The government proposed on Monday the most significant overhaul of its media ownership rules in a generation, including a change that would allow television networks to own enough local stations to reach 90 percent of the nation’s viewers.

That change -- the result of increasing the ownership cap and simultaneously preserving a 1980s formula that discounts the reach of UHF stations -- is part of the package of proposals that officials said appears to have the support of the Republican majority of the Federal Communications Commission.

The commission’s staff sent the detailed plan early on Monday evening to the five commissioners in advance of a final vote in three weeks. The commission has not formally made the plan public, though major portions have been disclosed Monday and in previous days by officials and industry experts.

The proposed changes represent the most important rewriting of the ownership rules in decades, permitting the largest media conglomerates to expand into new markets and own more properties in a single city. Analysts expect companies including Viacom and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to seek to expand their media holdings substantially. Others, such as the Tribune Co. and Gannett, may seek to acquire broadcasters or newspapers in cities where they already have a presence. Media brokers and Wall Street bankers have begun advising clients on what is expected to be a scramble of mergers that will reshape the media landscape in many communities across the country.

In a recent interview and other comments, the agency’s chairman, Michael K. Powell, has said that the revisions in the media ownership rules would be more modest than critics have maintained and that changes in technology and viewing habits, combined with court decisions and a congressional directive, necessitate that the current regulations be reconsidered.

The agency’s two Democrats have expressed concerns with many aspects of the proposal.