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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  • The FCC's GOP majority voted in the changes in 2017, arguing that the ownership restrictions were outdated and that broadcasters should be freer to find buyers in order to compete with internet platforms.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the panel of judges overseeing the decision has repeatedly rejected the FCC's attempts to reform what they see as an outdated law.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

Go deeper

Updated Dec 3, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: The future of broadband connectivity

Axios' Erica Pandey, Dan Primack, and Ashley Gold hosted a conversation on the future of broadband connectivity, featuring FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, Per Scholas CEO Plinio Ayala and DreamBox CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson.

Geoffrey Starks discussed the impact of the digital divide, citing research that shows that more than 77 million Americans lack adequate broadband in their home. He also highlighted the racial disparity, adding that 1 in 3 Black adults and more than 1 in 3 Latino adults don't have home broadband connections.

  • On why broadband connection is especially critical during the pandemic: "Access to telemedicine and telehealth via affordable, reliable broadband is going to be extremely important to making sure that folks can safely manage their health from home."

Jessie Woolley-Wilson suggested that broadband should be treated as a household utility, highlighting that primary barriers to access are due to cost or location.

  • On the severity of the issue: "Imagine if there were homes that didn't have electricity or heat — we would figure out policy solutions to that, and I think we have to start thinking about access to broadband almost like it was a utility."

Plinio Ayala argued that the U.S. government needs to focus on workforce development, providing American workers with IT skills to meet the shifting technological and economic landscape.

  • "A lot of the skills that workers obtain in the hospitality sector or in the retail sector, customer service skills are incredibly transferable into the I.T. space...AI was going to cause a disruption in our workforce regardless [and] the pandemic just accelerated that."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with The Internet & Television Association president and CEO Michael Powell and discussed how COVID-19 has been a stress test for network capacity and people have had to shift work and school to home.

  • "[COVID-19] was the greatest experiment in stressing the Internet that we've had in the history of the Internet...How they performed [is] really a culmination of years of of investment, years of excellence in engineering and a cultural commitment to the needs of our country at a time where the public health response is dependent on the ability to let consumers stay at home to work and school."

Thank you Comcast for sponsoring this event.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 4 hours ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.