Oct 2, 2020 - Technology

SCOTUS to hear FCC media deregulation case

An image of various TVs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case brought to it by the Federal Communications Commission, with support from the National Association of Broadcasters, about the FCC's longtime attempts to relax media ownership rules.

Why it matters: The case will determine whether a 2017 FCC rule allowing broadcast companies to own more than one of the top four stations in a market can stand. If it does, it will likely usher in even more local broadcast consolidation in the U.S.

Details: The FCC asked the Supreme Court to take up the case in April, after a lower court last year ruled against the agency's deregulatory changes.

  • The FCC's GOP majority voted in the changes in 2017, arguing that the ownership restrictions were outdated and that broadcasters should be freer to find buyers in order to compete with internet platforms.
  • The lower court's decision was met by frustration from Republicans, who have been pursuing a deregulatory agenda for the telecom and broadcast companies the FCC oversees since President Trump took office. They noted that the panel of judges overseeing the decision has repeatedly rejected the FCC's attempts to reform what they see as an outdated law.

What they're saying: "Hope #SCOTUS affirms authority Congress gave us to amend ownership rules in light of a media marketplace that’s changed dramatically since 1975—especially with local news outlets struggling more than ever," FCC chairman Ajit Pai tweeted.

What's next: Analyst Paul Cowen said in a research note that he expects oral arguments in February and a ruling by June.

Go deeper: The local TV consolidation race is here

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