FCC Votes to ‘Modernize’ Broadcast Ownership Rules

WASHINGTON—“It’s a simple proposition: the media ownership regulations of 2017 should match the media marketplace of 2017,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in his statement on broadcast ownership rules, which were voted on and approved to be updated during the FCC’s Open Commission Meeting today, Nov. 16. “After too many years of cold shoulders and hot air, this agency finally drags its broadcast ownership rules into the digital age.”

The broadcast ownership rules were up for review as Congress requires the FCC to review them every four years to determine if they are in the public interest. Chief among the moves made today by the FCC in regards to ownership rules was the elimination of the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule and Radio/Television Cross-Ownership Rule. The Newspaper/Broadcast rule was originally adopted in 1975 and Pai stated that its elimination “will open the door to pro-competitive combinations that can strengthen local voices and enable both newspapers and broadcast stations to better serve their communities.”

The FCC also voted to eliminate the eight-voices test for local television ownership. The test required at least eight independently owned TV stations to remain in a market before any entity may own two television stations in that market. Pai claimed that this would help television stations thrive, especially in small- and mid-sized markets where there may not be enough advertising revenue to support eight competitive stations. The updated order will also permit exceptions to the prohibition on an entity owning two of the top four stations in a market if it can be shown that a particular transaction would be in the public interest. The national ownership cap and UHF discount were not included in this Quadrennial Review, but are expected to be considered in a separate proceeding later this year.

The easing of restrictions on television joint sales agreements were also approved, which Pai said essentially made it impossible for stations to enter into JSAs in most markets.

One addition the FCC made in regards to ownership rules is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on establishing a new incubator program that would see established broadcasters would help facilitate entry by new voices into the marketplace, with a specific eye toward expanding broadcast ownership diversity. The FCC will seek comments on how to implement and structure the program.

The official vote was three to two, with Pai, Commissioner O’Rielly and Commissioner Carr approving. Commissioner Clyburn and Commissioner Rosenworcel dissented.

During the meeting, Commissioner Clyburn voiced her objections on the new order when she said “Today will go down in history as a day the FCC abdicated its responsibility to uphold localism, diversity and competition.”