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FCC revisits “UHF discount” rule

The FCC’s Media Bureau—without a vote by the full commission—has issued a public notice seeking comment on the impact of the controversial “UHF Discount” policy, part of the media ownership rules package passed last summer.

Under the controversial policy used in measuring station market share for ownership eligibility, UHF stations are considered to reach only 50 percent of the households that a VHF station reaches, even though the majority of consumers receive identical UHF and VHF signals over cable or satellite. The original UHF discount rule was established before the days of pay television and recently revived by the Republicans on the FCC as part of the media ownership rules package.

In reaction to the Media Bureau’s decision to seek comment, Democratic FCC Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, both of whom oppose the media ownership rules, expressed surprise.

“With an issue of this import, it appears to us to be a highly unusual and irregular step for the staff to take without input from members of the Commission,” Copps and Adelstein said in a written statement.

“The timing of this move—coming little more than a week after the oral argument in this case coupled with an immediate communication from the FCC General Counsel to the Third Circuit seeking to hold the issue in abeyance based on the staff Public Notice—may lead to questions of whether this is an attempt to avoid a substantive court decision on an apparent weakness and inconsistency in the June 2nd media ownership order.”

The validity of the new media ownership rules is currently the subject of a federal court case in Philadelphia.

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