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Finish Your Quadrennial Before Starting Another, NAB Tells FCC

The association says the FCC is acting illegally and unreasonably by starting the 2022 review

How can you do a 2022 quadrennial review of media ownership rules when you haven’t finished the 2018 one yet?

That’s essentially what the National Association of Broadcasters is asking the Federal Communications Commission.

(While calendars have already turned to 2023, these reviews every four years typically begin at the end of the named year, so that’s not the issue. The NAB is concerned here about the delay in completing the mandated review for 2018.)

As a spokesman put it: “While broadcasters wait for the FCC to act, we continue to compete with one arm tied behind our back while Big Tech stifles local journalism.” The NAB says the delay violates the law, and it has asked the commission to hold off and focus on concluding the 2018 process by the end of March.

At the crux of the issue is that Congress requires the commission to do a review every four years of whether rules governing media ownership remain “necessary in the public interest as the result of competition.” This is when the commission, the industry and other interested parties can lay out their rationales, with the industry typically arguing that federal regulations need to be eased or removed due to the fast-changing competitive landscape.

“While delaying the ultimate determination of the 2018 review may have made sense given then-pending litigation, the Supreme Court concluded that litigation nearly two years ago,” NAB wrote.

Also, “how are stakeholders supposed to intelligibly comment for purposes of the 2022 quadrennial review on rules subject to change in a previous unfinished review?”

It said the FCC’s approach risks turning the process “into a pointless and burdensome exercise for stakeholders.” For instance, if the FCC were to retroactively change rules under the 2018 review after taking comments for the 2022 review, anyone filing in the latter would have wasted time and money commenting on rules and policies that were outdated.

The association said preparing for reviews is costly. And it said the failure to complete the 2018 review “is particularly egregious given the hundreds of millions of dollars paid by broadcasters in regulatory fees, which supposedly reflect the ‘benefits’ conferred on the broadcast industry from commission work.” In fact it said broadcasters have paid approximately $230 million in regulatory fees to fund FCC activities while the 2018 review has been pending.

While the FCC notice cited a previous precedent for its approach, NAB believes the commission has no authority under the law to delay or to forego its 2018 review or to roll it into the next one. It said an appeals court had disapproved of such maneuvers earlier.

The deadline for filing comments in the 2022 review is March 3, with reply comments due March 20. If filing, type 22-459 in the proceeding field, referring to Media Bureau docket 22-459.