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Originally published Monday, August 31, 2009 at 4:34 PM

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Decision that helps Comcast stifles media diversity

A rule that limits cable giants such as Comcast to 30 percent of the national cable-TV market was struck down by a federal court. That's a shame, because democracy is better served by the diversity of voices aided when limits are placed on media consolidation.

UNTIL last week, Comcast, Time Warner and the other cable octopi were limited to 30 percent of the national cable-TV market by a ruling of the Federal Communications Commission. The rule was struck down by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. It was a good rule, and the American people need something like it.

The Seattle Times has long favored limits on media consolidation for the political reason that democracy requires many voices.

We will be accused of hypocrisy for saying so, because this year we have become Seattle's only daily print newspaper. But it was not by homicide. The second print newspaper died of economic causes — here, and in almost every other American city.

It is different with the great media chains. These agglomerations go beyond anything demanded by the market. Their owners pile up properties because they can. Their influence becomes a potential menace, and should be a political question at the national level.

Comcast is the largest cable chain. It has 24 million subscribers, a quarter of the U.S. market. It sued to break the FCC's 30-percent cap, claiming that to limit it to that much of the market violated its rights under the First Amendment. Imagine that: Limiting it to 30 percent of subscribers violates its freedom of speech!

The FCC didn't think so, and we don't either.

The FCC's concern was that no cable chain should have a choke hold over independent cable channels. Said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, "If an aspiring cable channel cannot win carriage on these big concentrated networks, its fate is sealed. It's doomed."

Comcast argued that there is lots of competition because of DirecTV and Dish Network. They had a point. Without DirecTV and Dish Network, the 30 percent threshold should be even lower.

We support the FCC. Commissioner Julius Genachowski should either create a new cap on the growth of cable-TV chains or defend this one at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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