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FCC Proposal Would Streamline Foreign App Review Process

Proposed NPRM would increase transparency of how foreign ownership applications are reviewed

For foreign entities looking to invest in the U.S. broadcast industry via station ownership, the application process may become more streamlined.

The Federal Communication Commission is seeking comment on changes through a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is designed to streamline and increase the transparency of how foreign ownership applications and petitions are reviewed.

The commission routinely refers applications with reportable foreign ownership to certain Executive Branch agencies. As the number of applications with reportable foreign ownership has increased, commission staff has been working with the Executive Branch on ways to improve the process, the commission said.

Among the proposals in the unanimously approved NPRM is a proposal for narrowing the range of applications that are referred to the executive branch. There are also proposals for itemizing information that is required when filing an application and the subsequent security procedures governing that information.

The NPRM also proposes to adopt a 90-day shot clock for executive branch national security, foreign policy and trade reviews.

“It is clear the communications industry is facing an increasingly complex future with services converging and competition no longer fenced in by traditional geographic borders,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during the meeting. “At the same time, the process we use at the commission to assess foreign ownership interests has grown more opaque. This is not right and not fair to the growing number of applicants requiring input regarding foreign investment in communications.”

The steps proposed in the NPRM, she said, also “build on our efforts last year to provide more clear-cut guidance regarding investment in our nation’s broadcast stations.”

Action on this NPRM was preempted by a letter from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency that advises the president on telecommunications policies. In its letter, the NTIA recommended changes to improve the review process to more succinctly assess applications, the NTIA said.

The proposed changes would apply to broadcast applications as well as common carrier wireless, common carrier satellite earth stations and submarine cable landing licenses.

The move follows an October 2015 NPRM that proposed to streamline foreign ownership procedures for broadcast licensees.