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Regulatory Reform: The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the FCC Media Ownership Rules

May 2003
Working Paper
By  Bruce Owen
The Federal Communications Commission has regulated ownership of mass media out-lets since the 1920s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 abolished some of these regulations, changed others, and required the FCC to review its rules regularly and to repeal those no longer required. There is little opposition to the idea that media ownership policy should promote economic competition (to increase the economic welfare of consumers) and First Amendment values (to preserve the political freedom of citizens).

This paper examines, from an economic perspective, federal administrative restrictions on ownership of media properties, including both antitrust and First Amendment policy bases for the rules. It concludes that the present rules are duplicative of antitrust law enforcement and should therefore be abolished as wasteful of public resources and a burden on consumer welfare. It argues that First Amendment goals are not threatened by abolition.