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U.S. Congress Agrees To Set 39% Ceiling for Broadcasters

The U.S. Congress, under Republican leadership, and the White House agreed late Nov. 24, 2003 in Washington DC to a new limit on the number of television stations one company can own, a compromise reached to help make way for approval of a massive spending bill that will keep the government running for a year.

The agreement allows a single broadcaster to reach up to 39% of the nation's TV audience, industry sources report. Both the House and Senate had agreed to a 35% ceiling, but faced a Bush administration threatened veto of the entire $390 billion spending bill if the cap was set at that level. The deal reportedly makes the 39% cap permanent.

The congressional action comes following protests from both parties after the FCC agreed to raise the audience-reach cap to 45% on a 3-2 party-line vote June 2.

Protests are not over. "I think that's wrong," said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. "To open it back up is unacceptable."

The debate over raising the cap has divided the U.S. broadcast industry. Networks contend that the limit is outdated in the modern media marketplace while smaller broadcasters and producers fear monopolistic, lack of competition if major media outlets powers go unchecked.

Viacom Inc., which runs the CBS and UPN television networks, and News Corp., which runs the FOX network, already own local stations that reach more than 35% of the national television audience.