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The FCC just relaxed more rules for telecom companies and TV station owners

Republican Chairman Ajit Pai delivers some wins for AT&T, Verizon and a few players in the broadcasting industry.

Senate Judiciary Committee Hears Testimony From FCC Leaders On Proposed FCC Privacy Rules Alex Wong / Getty

The Federal Communications Commission offered another round of regulatory relief to the nation’s largest telecom companies on Thursday.

This time, the agency’s Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, opened the door for two potential changes: Increases in prices for certain organizations to access speedy internet services, and another round of consolidation by TV station owners.

In his first move, Pai successfully removed restrictions on the likes of AT&T and Verizon, which now have more leeway to raise prices for businesses that rely on dedicated links to their networks. That includes hospitals and schools, for example, which tap this so-called “business data services” market — a different pipe than, say, your usual home internet — to transmit large quantities of data quickly and reliably.

The agency’s sole Democratic commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, stressed on Thursday that Pai’s plan would “open the door to immediate price hikes for small business broadband service in rural areas and hundreds of communities across the country.”

Pai, who joined with the FCC’s other Republican on a 2-1 vote approving the order, rejected that criticism.

“Price regulation — that is, the government setting the rates, terms and conditions for special access services — is seductive,” he said. “Who can possibly resist the promise of forcing prices lower right now? But in reality, price regulation threatens competition and investment.”

Pai also relaxed some rules on TV stations owners: His order, also approved on a 2-1 vote, changes the way those stations calculate their footprints. In effect, Pai’s move makes it easier for TV station groups to grow without tripping a federal cap on their size — and as a result, it could set off another wave of industry consolidation.

In strongly opposing that proposal, Clyburn cited comments from CBS Corporation CEO Leslie Moonves, who signaled earlier this year that he could “buy some more stations” if such a cap was lifted. She also highlighted recent comments by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which told the FCC something similar in a private meeting. Democrats in Congress have raised their fears with the commission that more consolidation could harm consumers.

Speaking at today’s meeting, Pai said the move is necessary as part of a broader rethinking of some of the country’s media ownership rules.

“Today, the FCC is wiping the slate clean,” he said.

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