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FCC to review media ownership rules

Agency orders shift that may lift wireless and Net phone bills

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission voted yesterday to review its media ownership rules, though the panel's two Democrats objected that the process won't ensure enough public comment on proposals.

With a Republican majority in place after a vacancy had produced months of deadlock, the panel reopened the disputed issue of limits on the number of radio and television stations that one owner can have and the limits on cross-ownership between newspapers and broadcasters. The rules are of great concern to giant media firms in an era of mergers and convergence of print and broadcast media inside companies.

The 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals suspended changes the panel made in 2003 and sent most of them back for re-evaluation, saying the FCC compiled an insufficient record to justify them.

Chairman Kevin J. Martin has supported ending the cross-ownership ban.

Also yesterday the FCC approved an interim plan to fund phone service subsidies that could result in higher bills for wireless of Internet-based telephones.

The agency ordered Internet telephone services to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes phone service to rural and low-income areas as well as communications services and Internet access for schools, hospitals, and libraries. It also increased the amount wireless telephone firms would have to pay into the fund.

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