WASHINGTON — The rule that now counts one UHF TV station as half of a whole is up for target practice at the Federal Communications Commission. The commission recently released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to eliminate the so-called “UHF discount,” under which a UHF license is discounted by 50 percent when considering media ownership caps in a given market. The NPRM has now been published in the Federal Register, triggering the 60-day comment period. Comments on the dockets, Nos. 13-236 and 13-123, are now due Dec. 16, 2013.
Current TV station ownership rules prohibit a single entity from owning television stations that reach more than 39 percent of U.S. TV households. The UHF discount rule was enacted before the 2009 digital transition.
“The UHF discount was adopted in recognition of the technical inferiority of UHF signals in analog television broadcasting, and was intended to mitigate the competitive disadvantages that UHF stations experienced in comparison to VHF stations because of their weaker signals and smaller audience reach,” the Notice states. “However, there is serious question whether this justification for the UHF discount continues to exist in light of the transition of full-power television stations to digital broadcasting completed on June 12, 2009. Our experience since the DTV transition suggests that UHF channels may actually be superior to VHF channels when it comes to the transmission of digital television.”
The Notice assumes that the UHF discount is obsolete, though it would grandfather station groups that exceed the 39 percent national audience cap without the discount. Sinclair would be among such groups.
The Notice conversely asks if a VHF discount might be in order, since “it appears that under current conditions, VHF channels may be technically inferior to UHF channels for the propagation of digital television signals.”
Replies are due Jan. 13, 2014, 30 days after the initial comment deadline.
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