It’s a new year, and it’s time to look ahead at what Washington may have in store for broadcasters this year. The FCC may be slow to tackle some of the big issues on its agenda (like the completion of 2018 Quadrennial Review or any other significant partisan issue) as it still has only four Commissioners – two Democrats and two Republicans. On controversial issues like changes to the ownership rules, there tends to be a partisan divide. As the nomination of Gigi Sohn expired at the end of the last Congress in December, the Biden administration was faced with the question of whether to renominate her and hope that the confirmation process moves more quickly this time, or to come up with a new nominee whose credentials will be reviewed by the Senate. It was announced this week that the administration has decided to renominate her, meaning that her confirmation process will begin anew. How long that process takes and when the fifth commissioner is seated may well set the tone for what actions the FCC takes in broadcast regulation this year.
Perhaps the most significant issue at the FCC facing broadcasters is the resolution of the 2018 Quadrennial Review to assess the current local ownership rules and determine if they are still in the public interest. As we wrote last week, the FCC has already started the 2022 review, as required by Congress, even though it has not resolved the issues raised in the 2018 review. For the radio industry, those issues include the potential relaxation of the local radio ownership rules. As we have written, some broadcasters and the NAB have pushed the FCC to recognize that the radio industry has significantly changed since the ownership limits were adopted in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and local radio operators need a bigger platform from which to compete with the new digital companies that compete for audience and advertising in local markets. Other companies have been reluctant to endorse changes – but even many of them recognize that relief from the ownership limits on AM stations would be appropriate.