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FCC Wants More Input Before Finishing Rule Review

Cites passage of time and pandemic as reasons to reopen comments

Before the FCC closes its current quadrennial review of media ownership rules, it wants more public input.

The commission also has reinstated deregulatory changes that the Supreme Court recently upheld in the “Prometheus” decision.

Regarding the first item, the commission wrote that, “Given the passage of time since the prior comment period ended, as well as the subsequent litigation culminating with the Supreme Court’s recent decision, we now seek further comment to update the record in the 2018 Quadrennial Review proceeding.”

The Telecommunications Act requires the commission to review its media ownership rules every four years to determine whether they remain “necessary in the public interest as the result of competition.” A final order in the 2018 cycle has yet to be issued.

The Local Radio Ownership Rule, or “radio subcaps,” remain subject to the FCC’s review, along with certain television ownership rules.

“Beyond reviewing the existing record in light of the passage of time, we also seek submission of new or additional information regarding the media marketplace that commenters believe is relevant to this proceeding,” it wrote in a public notice.

“Specifically, we seek information regarding the broadcast industry’s evolution since early 2019 and its current trajectory, including the effects, if any, of technological change, new entry, consolidation or changing market conditions. We seek comment in particular on the further development and impact of technological advances and industry practices.”

Among other things, the FCC also wants to hear about other relevant trends in the broadcast industry or related markets, such as the growth of online audio and video sources, “including as sources for news and information, as well as the continued strength and importance of broadcast radio and television stations in the local communities they serve.”

It asked for more info about the impact of the pandemic on its proceeding, and whether those have any bearing on ownership rules.

And it asked for input on diversity proposals, noting that the Supreme Court did not address whether the Telecom Act bars the FCC from considering minority and female ownership in its quadrennial reviews.

One of the issues that radio industry people will be watching is whether the FCC takes any action on the subcaps that limit how many radio stations a given company can own in a given service (AM or FM) in one market. The NAB hopes the commission will at least ease those. But FCC watchers note that the FCC seems less likely to deregulate media ownership rules under a Democratic administration. (The current Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel had opposed the changes that the Supreme Court just upheld when she was in the Democratic minority on the commission.)

For a full list of what the commission is asking, see the public notice. Filings should refer to MB Docket No. 18-349. Comments will be due 30 days after this notice appears in the Federal Register.

Regarding the second item, the FCC Media Bureau now officially has reinstated several of the commission’s prior ownership rule changes. It did so per the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision. So the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule, the Radio/Television Cross-Ownership Rule and the Television Joint Sales Agreement Attribution Rule are eliminated.