A Federal Communications Commission staff report suggests that any additional regulation of television station ownership or the relationship between networks and affiliates probably would not have any impact on what viewers see.
In the first of many reports expected to come out of the broad Network Inquiry now being conducted by the FCC, the staff concluded that the commission does have the authority to regulate network practices directly.
Still, the staff concluded, if the FCC was to use that authority more than it does today, it would be "unlikely to affect substantially the way the television industry responds to viewer interests."
The staff report said the commission should instead take measures to increase "television viewing alternatives" to the networks, like cable and satellite systems.
"So long as one accepts the existance of three, and only three, networks operating at any given time, there will be severe limitations on the use of the regulatory process to alter the programs which viewers can watch," the staff study said.
Since March 1978, a Network Industry Special Staff has been working on a broad investigation of network practicies, specifically seeking to determine whether these practices are anticompetitive or hamper the independent judgement of affiliated stations.
The reports released yesterday, the first results of the ongoing investigation, represent the first FCC studies of television networks released since 1957.
"The more than two decades since that time have been a period of dramatic growth and changes in U.S. television, and we need to reevaluate the provisions of our existing regulatory scheme for this medium,' said FCC chairman Charles Ferris in a statement accompanying the report.
The report, however, did discuss "the inordinate vacillation and delay exhibited by the FCC," as "symptons" of the failure of the commission to be specific in the information it was seeking about network activity in the past.