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Already facing withering criticism for loosening restraints on media company mergers, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell apparently does not want to add more fuel to the fire. Powell told reporters Wednesday that the agency has no immediate plans to complete its overhaul of cable ownership rules. Those regulations prohibit a company from owning cable or satellite systems that reach more than 30 percent of paid U.S. television subscribers. “We need to take time to get [the rules] right,” he said. The FCC initially was expected to propose news cable regs at the same time it released its broader media merger initiative, which has drawn fire from lawmakers and consumer advocates. But the agency separated the two plans and decided to move first with the comprehensive overhaul. Powell has said he expected to implement the cable rewrite by the end of the year. Now, the chairman suggested, the agency would not proceed until next year. Powell said he has rejected at least two versions of the rules the agency’s media department presented him. Powell said the staff lacked enough data to justify the proposed changes in cable ownership. Telecom industry observers expect Powell to ultimately ease limits on cable mergers by permitting a single company to own cable or satellite systems reaching up to 40 percent of paid TV subscribers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the cable ownership limit in 2001 after AOL Time Warner Inc. and other media companies challenged it. FCC media bureau chief Kenneth Ferree has previously questioned whether the agency will need to regulate the cable industry so closely now that new competition is emerging from satellite TV and other alternative technologies. The FCC in June revised many of the media ownership rules affecting TV and radio stations, including a prohibition on owning a newspaper and broadcast outlet in the same market. Those rules have sparked a political outcry and may be at least partially overturned by Congress. A federal appeals court also has temporarily barred the FCC from enforcing the media rules. As part of his wide-ranging remarks at a media briefing, Powell also reiterated his intention to complete by year-end the review of News Corp.’s $6.6 billion deal to buy DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics Corp. He cautioned, however, that this deadline remained tentative. “We’ll take as much time as necessary to get it right,” he said. The agency, Powell added, is considering a series of concessions in connection with the deal requested by Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee chairman Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and ranking member Herb Kohl, D-Wis. The lawmakers said regulators should bar News Corp. from purchasing a majority of DirecTV for at least five years. This delay would reduce News Corp.’s incentive to discriminate against DirecTV rivals, the senators said. Powell said the agency’s consideration of the senators’ request will not delay the FCC in issuing a final ruling on the merger. Copyright �2003 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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