The FCC yesterday issued a Declaratory Ruling approving the acquisition of an FM radio station in upstate New York by a company that is 100% controlled by two individuals, neither of whom is a US citizen. One is a UK citizen, the second a citizen of Poland. These individuals have lived in the US for three years. As the Foreign Investment Review Staff at the Department of Justice indicated to the FCC that it had no objection to the sale after coordinating with other Executive Branch agencies, the FCC concluded that the public interest favored this foreign investment to insure continuity in the operation of the radio station.
This is the third case where the FCC has approved ownership of US broadcast stations by a company 100% owned by foreign citizens (see our articles here and here on earlier cases). In each of these cases, the acquisitions have been by individual investors of smaller, privately-owned stations. In 2016, the FCC issued a ruling providing greater opportunity for more foreign investment in public companies (see our article here), but large public companies have been slow to take advantage of this liberalized regulatory regime. We have seen companies including Univision obtain approval for non-controlling foreign interests, but as of this point, we have not seen a situation where a public company has sought approval for majority foreign ownership. Even under the FCC’s liberalized rules, there still need to be specific foreign investors identified and approved by the Executive Branch agencies involved in homeland security issues before they can take control of any company. So the process is not a wide-open invitation for any foreign owner to come into the US and buy a broadcast company. But in the 5 years since the FCC first made clear that they would allow foreign ownership above 25% of a company controlling a broadcast station (see our article here), significant foreign investment in US broadcast stations has occurred, and we expect the trend to continue.