WASHINGTON The Federal Communications Commission will begin looking at how television and radio stations can best serve their communities, the agency's chair said Wednesday.
Michael Powell's announcement follows intense criticism by lawmakers and others of the FCC's decision to loosen broadcast ownership rules.
Powell, the driving force behind the new rules that take effect next month, sought to play down concerns the changes would promote mergers and leave a few big companies controlling the vast majority of stations.
''We heard the voice of public concern loud and clear, that localism remains a core concern of our public. And thus, I think it's time the commission address it head on,'' Powell said.
He plans to appoint a task force to study the issue, hold public hearings and report back within a year.
In addition, the commission will ask for comments on rules designed to promote local programming, including looking at the practice of making a newscast sound local despite being aired from another city.
Powell said the FCC would speed the licensing of noncommercial, low-power FM radio stations, which are designed to feature local programming.
Commissioner Michael Copps, one of two Democrats on the five-member FCC, said the study should have been done before the FCC approved the rules.
''You cannot use a blanket of study to quell the fire of public outrage about increasing control of the public's airwaves by fewer and fewer conglomerates,'' Copps said.
''What if we complete these studies and find out that localism is not served by consolidation? It will be too late.''
The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines in June to overhaul ownership rules for newspapers and television and radio stations.
The changes would allow a single company to own television stations reaching 45 percent of the nation's viewers compared with 35 percent before and to own newspapers and broadcast outlets in the same city.
Smaller broadcasters, network affiliates, consumer groups and others are concerned the new limit will allow the networks to gobble up more stations and limit local control of programming.
Lawmakers from both parties are pushing to roll back some or all the changes.
Over Bush administration objections, the House voted 400-21 last month to roll back the rules.
In the 1980s, the FCC said radio and television stations no longer had to air a certain amount of nonentertainment shows, such as news, public affairs or educational programming.
The commission also abolished the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues.
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