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FCC Proposes to Prioritize License Application Review for Stations With Local Content

GOP minority sees an indirect attack on the elimination the main studio rule

The Democratic majority on the FCC proposes to give “processing priority” to certain applications from radio and TV stations that provide locally originated programming.

The Republican minority is objecting, saying the initiative solves a nonexistent problem. One commissioner calls it “a collateral attack on the commission’s elimination of the main studio rule.”

At issue is a notice of proposed rulemaking that was created by party-line vote on Wednesday. The proposal, if ultimately passed, would modify the FCC’s processing policy for applications for renewal, transfer or assignment of license. It would prioritize evaluation of applications from stations that certify that they provide locally originated programming.

“These applications would be the first to be reviewed, which would likely result in quicker action and, if the application is granted, quicker approval of these applications,” the commission stated.

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement, “We propose to sweeten the incentives for locally originated news and content. … [W]e build on the time-tested model used with the Children’s Television Act and propose a first-in-class processing review for renewals when a station can certify that it provides locally-originated programming. This is a tried-and-true incentive-based system that creates no new obligations, but instead puts in place a structure to better support the capacity for local news and content — and the local journalism that is absolutely vital for our communities and our democracy.”

Senior Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr called the NPRM “a head scratcher” in a dissenting statement. When the idea was first raised, he said, he supported the idea, even though he’s not sure it would make much difference in the real world. “But then things went sideways fairly quickly.”

Carr said he was surprised to find that the NPRM discusses the FCC’s 2017 decision to repeal the main studio rule and determined “that this 2017 decision was an error.” Carr said there’s no reason even to mention the main studio rule in this notice, which does not propose to reinstate that rule.

“There are plenty of ways that the FCC can ground its prioritization proposal in the agency’s longstanding and statutorily grounded commitment to localism. … Let’s cut back on the discussion of the main studio rule, which we don’t need to get into here, and then move forward together with the localism proposal.”

He said including language about the main studio rule also would introduce unnecessary litigation risk.

Carr’s fellow Republican Nathan Simington said Rosenworcel has “clothed recent regulatory revanchism in broadcast in the language of localism, and this item is no different.” Simington called the proposal “a collateral attack on the commission’s elimination of the main studio rule.”

He also said, “While the language of the item suggests that … broadcasters with locally-originated programming [would] have a leg up, what it actually means is that any broadcaster who originates news for Market A from a studio in Market B might now have any application — at least for which a ‘processing issue’ credibly can be discovered or manufactured — slowed.”

He scoffed at the idea that “local broadcasters with locally-originated programming, per the item’s definition, [will] pour in to thank the commission for its leadership in correcting a longstanding issue with application processing time.” Instead, he said he’s worried about possible “weaponization of application processing” and said that this item “is an answer to a question that no one asked.”

Read the proposal.