foreign ownership of US broadcast stations

Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions of the last week—and some obligations for the week ahead—of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The comment cycle was set in the FCC’s annual regulatory fee proceeding. On or before June 12, the Commission wants to hear from interested parties about the fees that it proposes to impose on the companies that it regulates – including broadcasters.  The FCC proposes to complete the implementation of its change to computing fees for television stations based on population served rather than on the market in which they operate, a move it began last year (see our Broadcast Law Blog article here on the FCC decision last year to initiate the change in the way TV fees are allocated).  The FCC also asks for ideas about how the Commission can extend fee relief to stations suffering COVID-19-related financial hardship.  Reply comments are due on or before June 29.  (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking)
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Chris Krebs, director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, wrote to the nation’s governors asking them to, among other things, declare radio and TV broadcasters as essential to COVID-19 response efforts and to afford broadcasters all appropriate resources and access. (News Release)
  • In a good reminder to broadcasters that transactions involving the sale or transfer of control of a broadcast station must be authorized in advance by the FCC, the Media Bureau entered into a consent decree with two companies that sold an FM station and FM translator without getting approval from the Commission. The parties mistakenly believed filing license renewal applications that reflected the assignment was sufficient approval.  The consent decree includes an $8,000 penalty.  (Consent Decree).  See this article on past cases where the FCC has warned that even transactions among related companies that change the legal form of ownership of a broadcast station without changing the ultimate control need prior FCC approval.
  • The Commission granted approval to Cumulus Media, Inc. to exceed the Commission’s twenty-five percent foreign ownership threshold. The Commission will allow Cumulus to have up to 100 percent aggregate foreign investment in the company, although additional approvals will be needed if any previously unnamed foreign entity acquires 5% or more of the company or if any foreign entity desires to acquire control.  (Declaratory Ruling).  This decision shows the process that the FCC must go through to approve foreign ownership above the 25% threshold and the analysis needed to issue such approvals.  See our articles here and here about the evolving FCC policy in this area.
  • President Trump signed an executive order that seeks to, among other things, address online censorship and rollback certain protections afforded to online platforms, which include social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, but which also protect any site that hosts content created by users – which could include the Internet platforms of many broadcasters. Under federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, these online platforms generally enjoy legal immunity for what users post on their platforms.  The President directed the Department of Commerce to ask the FCC to open a rulemaking to review this immunity and asked the FTC to review whether platforms were adhering to their terms of use when commenting on or limiting third-party content.  Other government entities, including state attorneys general and the Department of Justice, were also asked to review online platforms.  For his part, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said “This debate is an important one. The Federal Communications Commission will carefully review any petition for rulemaking filed by the Department of Commerce.”  (Executive Order).  Watch for an article on the Broadcast Law Blog this coming week on implications of this order for broadcasters and other media companies.
  • Anyone looking to hand deliver documents to the FCC needs to learn a new address, and it is not, as you might expect, the address of the FCC’s future headquarters. Deliveries by hand must now be brought to 9050 Junction Drive, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701.  The address change is to enhance security screening and is part of winding down operations at the current 12th Street headquarters.  (Order)


Continue Reading This Week at the FCC for Broadcasters: May 23, 2020 to May 29, 2020

The FCC this week released a Public Notice soliciting comments on the request of Univision, which owns US radio and TV stations, to have foreign ownership that exceeds 50%. As we wrote here, the FCC previously permitted foreign ownership of up to 49% of the company. With a restructuring of its investors, the

In a decision released yesterday, the FCC issued a “remedial declaratory ruling” finding the change in control of stock in a company that owned broadcast stations did not offend the public interest, and that the approval of foreign ownership in the company that controlled broadcast stations above 25% (but capped at 49%) that was

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

The FCC yesterday issued a Declaratory Ruling approving the acquisition by a company owned by two Mexican citizens of 100% of the ownership interest of a company that owns two radio stations in California and Arizona. Currently, the company owned by the Mexican citizens had only a 25% interest in the parent company of the

The FCC this week announced the filing of two applications seeking broadcast acquisitions by non-US based companies. In one available here, a company controlled by Mexican citizens would go from 25% to 100% ownership and control of a company that owns 2 FM stations in California and Arizona. In another, available here, an

Last year, the FCC made some modifications in its assessment of foreign ownership of companies with broadcast interests, relaxing some of their compliance rules to take account of the realities of the current public stock trading marketplace – realities that, using the FCC’s old policies, made determinations of the level of foreign ownership in any

The FCC yesterday released its first decision approving 100% foreign ownership of a group of US broadcast stations. This comes after significant relaxation of the FCC’s interpretation of the foreign ownership limits which, less than 4 years ago, had been interpreted to effectively prohibit foreign ownership of more than 25% of a company controlling

A new President and a new Chair of the FCC have already demonstrated that change is in the air in Washington. Already we’ve seen Chairman Pai lead the FCC to abolish the requirement that broadcasters maintain letters from the public about station operations in their public file (which will take effect once the Paperwork Reduction Act analysis is finalized), revoke the Media Bureau guidance that had limited Shared Services Agreements in connection with the sales of television stations, and rescind for further consideration FCC decisions about the reporting of those with attributable interests in noncommercial broadcast stations and the admonitions given to TV stations for violations of the obligation for reporting the issues discussed in, and sponsors of, political ads (see our article here). Also on the table for consideration next week are orders that have already been released for public review on expanding the use of FM translators for AM stations and proposing rules for the roll-out of the new ATSC 3.0 standard for television. Plus, the television incentive auction moves toward its conclusion in the repacking of the television spectrum to clear space for new wireless users. Plenty of action in just over 3 weeks.

But there are many other broadcast issues that are unresolved to one degree or another – and potentially new issues ready to be discussed by the FCC this year. We usually dust off the crystal ball and make predictions about the legal issues that will impact the business of broadcasters earlier in the year, but we have waited this year to get a taste for the changes in store from the new administration. So we’ll try to look at the issues that are on the table in Washington that could affect broadcasters, and make some general assessments on the likelihood that they will be addressed this year. While we try to look ahead to identify the issues that are on the agenda of the FCC, there are always surprises as the regulators come up with issues that we did not anticipate. With this being the first year of a new administration that promises a different approach to regulation generally, what lies ahead is particularly hard to predict.
Continue Reading What’s Up for Broadcasters in Washington Under the New Administration – A Look Ahead at TV and Radio FCC Issues for the Rest of 2017

In a decision released yesterday, the FCC issued a Declaratory Ruling permitting certain identified foreign companies and individuals to own up to 40% of the voting interests in Univision, and allowed aggregate foreign ownership of up to 49% of the equity of the company. This decision noted that it was based not on the new rules for analyzing foreign ownership in broadcast stations approved by the Commission in late September (see our summary here), as those rules were not yet effective as they were only published in the Federal Register last month and certain aspects still needed to undergo analysis under the Paperwork Reduction Act. Instead, the request for the ruling in this case was analyzed under the 2013 Declaratory Ruling on ownership (see our summary here), the same ad hoc analysis used to review and approve Pandora’s acquisition of a radio station in 2015. While technically, the new rules did not apply to this proceeding, it is clear that the analysis of this decision would not be much different, as the Commission specifically refers to the new rules as setting what is reasonable in its ad hoc analysis of the circumstances of this case. Thus, this decision provides a good basis for determining what issues any potential foreign investor in a US broadcast station would face, particularly when investing in a public US company.

Even though the FCC looked to the new rules for guidance, the final conditions look much like those imposed on Pandora. Univision is required to seek specific approval for any acquisition of stock by any foreign shareholder not specifically approved in this order if that investor seeks to acquire an interest (either voting or equity) of greater than 5% of the company. The company must actively monitor its shareholders to assure that no specific foreign shareholder exceeds that 5% threshold and that foreign ownership does not exceed the aggregate 49% limit. The company cannot simply rely on the address of its shareholders in making a determination as to whether or not they are foreign, but instead must use reasonable efforts as defined in the October order (and set out in our summary) to establish the citizenship and ownership of its investors. The company also must insure that its organizational documents provide that, if any foreign owner causes the station to violate one of the restrictions imposed by the Declaratory Ruling, the company can redeem the stock of the owner. The company must also have provisions providing for the right to restrict foreign ownership and the right to require disclosure of citizenship information. The decision also notes that Executive Branch agencies had reviewed the proposal and did not find any potential security issues.
Continue Reading FCC Approves Up to 49% Foreign Ownership of Univision – What Guidance is Provided to Potential Foreign Investors in US Broadcast Stations?