In a case released this week, the FCC decided to forgive a fine that had been imposed on a radio station for not timely filing its license renewal (and for operating after the license expired without authority). The fine was eliminated because the station’s operator had declared bankruptcy, and the persons who were in charge of
The FCC this week released the full text of its decision on the revision of the multiple ownership rules that it adopted at its December 18 meeting. While the text goes into great detail on the decision to relax the newspaper-television cross ownership restrictions (causing the ruling to be condemned by consolidation critics), the order is very brief in addressing the numerous other issues with the multiple ownership rules that were raised in this proceeding. Television broadcasters sought greater opportunities to consolidate in local markets, and radio broadcasters requested reconsideration or clarification of various aspects of the Commission’s 2003 decision adopting Arbitron market definitions as the basis of the determining how many radio stations are in a particular market. These requests were all rejected, some summarily. Will these parties who were denied relief from the FCC protest as loudly as the critics of the decision with respect to the relaxation of the TV-newspaper cross ownership limits?
We summarized the decision with respect to the newspaper television rules here. That summary was based on the statements made at the December 18 meeting and on the press release issued that day which provided a brief summary of the Commission’s decision. The outline we provided in December was basically accurate, and there were few surprises about the newspaper-television cross ownership rules in the text. The Commission was very thorough in documenting the basis for its decision that newspapers and television stations could be commonly controlled without adversely affecting the public interest, citing a legion of studies supporting their decision, while carefully refuting the studies supplied by consolidation critics. However, the remainder of the decision, dealing with other aspects of the multiple ownership rules which the Commission refused to change, contained reasoning which was far more limited. In some cases, particularly dealing with radio issues, the reasoning was almost absent.
Yesterday’s unique Public Notice outlining Chairman Martin’s proposals for reform of the multiple ownership rules (which we summarized here) is a surprisingly restrained and limited approach to relaxation of the ownership rules – proposing to relax only the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership prohibitions, and only in the Top 20 TV markets. Moreover, the reform would only allow the combination of a daily newspaper and a single radio or TV station, and the newspaper-TV combination would only be allowed if the TV station is not one of the Top 4 ranked stations in the market. While the extremely limited nature of the proposed relief has not stopped critics of big media from immediately condemning the proposal (see the joint statement of Commissioners Copps and Adelstein, here), much less attention has been paid to those multiple ownership issues that the Chairman’s proposal does not seem to address – including TV duopoly relief in small markets and clarifications to the radio ownership rules requested by a number of broadcasters who sought reconsideration of the changes that arose from the 2003 ownership reforms.
The Chairman’s Public Notice is itself a new approach to regulation – putting out for public comment (due by December 11) an action of the Commission just before that action is to be taken. Usually, the Commission proposes a set of rule changes in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and the Notice provides time for interested parties to comment and then reply to each other’s comments. Once all the written comments are submitted to the Commission, parties and their representative often make informal visits to the FCC to argue about the suggestions that have been made, and eventually, after much consideration, the Commission’s staff writes up a decision which is vetted by the Commissioners and their staff, and voted on by the full FCC. Usually, these final decisions are shrouded in secrecy – though outlines of the proposals are often the subject of informed gossip and rumor, rarely does anyone see the full set of rules that the Commission is considering until after the decision is made.
Late Tuesday night, in a meeting originally scheduled to start at 9:30 in the morning, the FCC adopted an order establishing the rules governing the carriage of broadcast signals by cable operators after the February 17, 2009 transition to digital television. While the full text of the Commission’s action has not yet been released (and may not be released for quite some time), based on the FCC’s formal news release and the statements made by the commissioners at the meeting and in their accompanying press releases, we can provide the following summary of these important FCC actions.
First, for a period of at least three years after the February 17, 2009 transition from analog to digital broadcasting, cable operators will be required to make the signals of local broadcast stations available to all of their subscribers by either: (1) carrying the television station’s digital signal in an analog format, or (2) carrying the signal only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content. This rule reflects a compromise position offered by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and is regarded as less burdensome on cable systems then the FCC’s original proposal of an indefinite analog carriage obligation.
Second, the FCC reaffirmed its existing requirement that cable systems must carry High Definition (HD) broadcast signals in HD format, and further that it must carry signals with “no material degradation”, i.e., with picture quality as good as any other programming carried by the operator. In affirming its "no material degradation" standard, the FCC rejected a proposal by the broadcast industry that would have required operators to pass-through all of the bits in digital television broadcast signal.
The FCC today issued the long-awaited text of its decision on Digital Audio radio – the so-called IBOC system. As we have written, while adopted at its March meeting, the text of the decision has been missing in action. With the release of the decision, which is available here, the effective date of the new rules can be set in the near future – 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register. With the Order, the Commission also released its Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, addressing a host of new issues – some not confined to digital radio, but instead affecting the obligations of all radio operations.
The text provides the details for many of the actions that were announced at the March meeting, including authorizing the operation of AM stations in a digital mode at night, and the elimination of the requirements that stations ask permission for experimental operations before commencing multicast operations. The Order also permits the use of dual antennas – one to be used solely for digital use – upon notification to the FCC. In addition, the order addresses several other matters not discussed at the meeting, as set forth below.