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MMTC Renews Push for FCC Incubator Program

Supports recent petitions from NAB and NABOB for creation of program to launch more minority-owned stations

The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council has identified itself as a supporter of incubator programs since the idea’s inception in 1990 and recently filed comments with the FCC in continuation of that 27-year fight.

The concept of incubator programs for broadcasting came from deliberations of the Minority Ownership Task Force in 1990, per the background provided in MMTC’s filing. The concept is that a licensee could receive a permanent waiver to exceed one of the local or national station ownership limits if the license makes possible the creation of an independent new voice; this generally would apply to the creation of minority-owned stations, says MMTC. The details of how this could be enacted were debated for many years, until 2013 when a citizen group filed an opposition to the proposal, asserting that any action to relax ownership limit was not in the public interest. The FCC voted the proposal down 3-2 in 2014, with Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly dissenting. Those two commissioners now constitute a Republican majority on the FCC.

Recent proposals from the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters attempted to reopen the incubator idea. This has led the MMTC to issue its comments that agree that a new notice of proposed rulemaking is needed.

“MMTC is confident that the concerns expressed by the Commission majority in the 2014 Quadrennial proceeding can be satisfied,” the comments read. “The Commission is capable of determining when the addition of a new voice in a market carries more positive public interest weight than any adverse public interest weight that might be attributed to an additional station being held by an existing voice. The Commission is also capable of determining what kind of entities should be eligible to benefit from incubation.”

One such resource now available to help in this determination, the MMTC points out, is the Overcoming Disadvantages Preferences (ODP) concept, which the Commission assessed needed to be fleshed out in 2014. Additional methods that could be implemented to effectively manage an incubator program were included in the comments, including using local marketing agreements like MMTC Broadcasting, the organization’s own nonprofit media brokerage, does. It also suggests that the FCC should look to how incubator programs have worked in other industries like high tech, energy, transportation and agriculture for constructing its NPRM.

MMTC also makes the assertion that while the focus of incubator programs in the past has been centered on the radio industry, the new NPRM should also invite insight into how incubation could be addressed on the television side.

“We hope the FCC will expedite the rulemaking in light of the 27-year delay in this matter—an FCC record,” MMTC writes. “This relatively non-controversial proposal has been pending in seven dockets for 27 years. It presents a genuine opportunity to increase the diversity of voices over the airwaves. Expedition is justified because ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ The time to take action is now.”