Doomsday for localism and community

Armstrong Williams | 1/30/2020, 3:35 p.m.
The modern wireless industry is evidence as to why a market with fewer, large broadcasters is better for consumers.
Armstrong Williams

The modern wireless industry is evidence as to why a market with fewer, large broadcasters is better for consumers. Without a national ownership restriction, unlike broadcasters, wireless providers have been able to invest in a national wireless infrastructure to serve the modern demands of consumers in today’s wireless age.

In 2018, the wireless providers made capital investments of $55.71 billion, up from $53.72 billion in 2017. Much of these expenditures related to the build out of the 5G network, which will benefit consumers with higher data rates, enabling faster downloads, and lower latency, allowing users to experience less delays. Consumers have also benefited through increased wireless connectivity across the nation, particularly in rural areas, which is essential for economic growth in the modern age.

Shifting back to the broadcast industry, in the absence of the current ownership restrictions, broadcasters would likewise take advantage of economies of scale that would bolster the industry’s ability to attract capital and investment at a time of unprecedented competition. With broadcast television advertising revenue declining in a marketplace where consumers subscribe to cable operators with hundreds of channels and the limitless offerings of the internet, a television market is simply unable to support four independent news stations in today’s world. The FCC’s ownership rules that were originally intended to promote localism and increase competition are now a severe constraint on broadcasters’ ability to compete.

Moreover, the ownership rules are no longer needed to ensure a diversity of viewpoints in the modern age. There are more diverse views available on a single webpage to any person in any market than were available for the first 50 years these regulations were in effect. In fact, multiple broadcast station ownership would actually lead to an increase in diverse offerings on the airwaves in ways that broadcasters are unable to do today. If a broadcaster were to own more than one station in a market, it could expand program offerings across its stations to serve specific communities and demographics. A broadcaster with two or three stations in a market would be able to keep up with the modern consumption demands in a world driven by consumer choice.

This would not only benefit the viewers, but advertisers as well. Advertisers value the digital world’s ability to target the reach of their products based on specific audience characteristics. If broadcasters are able to offer a variety of viewpoints over multiple stations in a market, in turn attracting specific demographics across different channels along with the localism that is inherent in the broadcast industry, broadcasters will be better suited to present competitive advertising solutions to competitors.

The bottom line is that if the FCC does not adapt its archaic rules or eliminate them altogether, the concepts of localism and community that the ownership rules were originally created to protect will be destroyed at the hands of the FCC. I am hopeful and optimistic that the FCC will see the need for these changes before this cornerstone of democracy is lost to tomes of history.

Armstrong Williams is manager/sole owner of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the year. | Follow me on Twitter @arightside.