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FCC Does Not Relax Local Ownership Rules

As we noted a few weeks ago, the FCC was required by the U.S. Court of Appeals to complete its 2018 Quadrennial Ownership Review by December 27th. As expected, the FCC did not relax any of its local radio or TV ownership rules. In fact, it tightened up on the local TV rules. The vote split on party lines, with 3 Democrats supporting and 2 Republicans dissenting.

In an amazing conclusion, the FCC found that while there was increased competition from digital services, broadcasting was still an insular market, thereby justifying continued regulations. The Commission concluded:

“Specifically, we retain the Dual Network Rule and the Local Radio Ownership Rule, the latter of which we modify only to make permanent the interim contour-overlap methodology long used to determine ownership limits in areas outside the boundaries of defined Nielsen Audio Metro markets and in Puerto Rico.  We likewise retain the Local Television Ownership Rule with modest adjustments to reflect changes that have occurred in the television marketplace.  The existing Local Television Ownership Rule ensures competition among local broadcasters while allowing for flexibility should the circumstances of local markets justify it.  Accordingly, today we update the methodology for determining station ranking within a market to better reflect current industry practices, and we expand the existing prohibition on use of affiliation to circumvent the restriction on acquiring a second top-four ranked station in a market.” 

Under this approach, the FCC expanded the ban on a station owning more than the top four network affiliates. Under the prior regulations, a station could own more than two if one of the facilities was an LPTV, Class A, or multi-cast digital channel. The FCC’s new decision eliminates these exceptions, thereby making the rules more restrictive.

In opposing the decision, Commissioner Carr said it best.

"Unfortunately, the Commission has taken an ostrich-like approach to this requirement in nearly every one of its quadrennial reviews, including the instant review.  Indeed, the Commission has consistently ignored Congress’s deregulatory mandate under the statute, the realities of the modern media marketplace, and the many ways that Americans now consume news, information, and entertainment programming.  This failure does not serve anyone’s interest, as a broad range of stakeholders have made clear in this record—once again.  But despite a record bursting with evidence of a vibrant media marketplace, the Commission continues to advance the fiction that broadcast radio and broadcast television stations exist in markets unto themselves."

This decision closes out a proceeding that began in 2018.  Ironically, the FCC by law must law commence a new Quadrennial Ownership proceeding. Perhaps The Commission will stop looking in the rear-view mirror and see the road ahead before it crashes.  

You can see the FCC’s decision here.



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