The FCC’s rules limiting the common ownership of radio and television stations, and of television stations and daily newspapers, are triggered by the Grade A contours of the television station encompassing the city of license of the radio station, or the city in which the newspaper is published. Since June, there has been one problem with the application of that rule (Section 73.3555) – television stations in the digital world no longer have Grade A contours. When adopting service contours for digital television, the FCC specified a Noise Limited Service Contour ("NLSC") as essentially the equivalent of the Grade B contour of an analog television signal – the contour at which the majority of people can receive the signal a majority of the time. The FCC also specified a principal city contour – the signal level that needed to be placed over a station’s city of license. But the FCC never bothered to specify the Grade A contour, despite the fact that the cross-ownership rules were premised on that contour. In a case decided last week involving the financial restructuring of a radio company, the FCC’s Media Bureau staff decided that they would use the NLSC as a proxy for the Grade A contour until such time as the full Commission otherwise directed.
This decision actually makes common ownership of television stations and either newspapers or radio stations somewhat more difficult, as the noise limited contour, approximating the old analog Grade B contour, actually extends further than where the Grade A contour would have reached (when a digital station replicated its analog service area). Thus, using this standard, the owners of a television station could be precluded from having attributable interests in radio stations or daily papers in more communities than would have been the case in the analog world. As the FCC is now embarking on its review of the multiple ownership rules (as we have written before), the FCC may well revisit this issue in the course of that review.