Free, over-the-air television and radio; community-based, low-power FM radio stations; public radio and television; and the obligations of licensees to serve the public interest. A key principle of federal communications law is that in exchange for free use of the public airwaves broadcasters agree to take actions to benefit the public. These principles are enshrined in the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934 in the mandate that "broadcasting serve the public interest, convenience and necessity."
Obviously, there's no bigger story this week than the possible impeachment of the 45th president of the United States. But if we still have your attention, here's some items of note we found this week. 1) Court Again Rejects FCC Attempt to Loosen Broadcast Ownership Rules. 2) Rebuilding Communications Infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands 3) Defining the Digital Divide.
The media merger pot keeps boiling. It appears that the Federal Communications Commission is about to approve another damaging deal, this one between Nexstar and Tribune. Nextar owns 171 television stations in 100 markets and Tribune has 44 stations in 33 markets. That translates into a national audience reach of 72 percent of U.S.
Perhaps the biggest news of the week was the agenda for the Federal Communications Commission's July 10 Open Meeting, which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai laid out in a blog post on June 18, 2019. I'm traveling to New York this week; below is a shorter-than-usual weekly that takes a look at how Chairman Pai plans to take education out of the Educational Broadband Service -- and broadcast television.
The FCC ruled that there are substantial and material questions as to whether Sinclair is qualified to be a broadcast licensee. There is only one way to resolve these questions in a transparent manner that allows public participation: a hearing on the renewal of Sinclair’s broadcast television licenses.
I’ve spent just over 30 years working to ensure that all Americans benefit from accessible, affordable, and open communications networks that promote democratic values. But none of that would have been possible without Everett Parker’s accomplishments. As this audience knows well, Everett worked hand-in-hand with the Rev. Martin Luther King and the civil rights community to challenge the broadcast license of WLBT-TV, a Jackson, Mississippi, station that broadcast racist propaganda and refused to cover the civil rights movement.
Tribune Media will withdraw from its $3.9 billion merger with Sinclair Broadcast Group, saying it would sue Sinclair for “breach of contract” over its failed negotiations with regulators over the deal. “In light of the FCC’s unanimous decision, referring the issue of Sinclair’s conduct for a hearing before an administrative law judge, our merger cannot be completed within an acceptable time frame, if ever,” said Peter Kern, Tribune’s chief executive officer. “This uncertainty and delay would be detrimental to our company and our shareholders.
On June 28, 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media Company filed applications seeking to transfer control of Tribune subsidiaries to Sinclair. Sinclair and Tribune have amended their applications several times thereafter, in an attempt to bring the transaction into compliance with the Commission’s national television multiple ownership rule, as well as the public interest requirements of the Communications Act.
Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair/Tribune transaction. The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law. When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction. Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking initiating a comprehensive review of the national television audience reach cap, including the so-called UHF discount used by broadcasters to determine compliance with the cap. The national cap limits entities from owning or controlling television stations that, together, reach more than 39 percent of the television households in the country. The Commission’s last review of this rule occurred when the video marketplace looked very different and most Americans had fewer options for watching video programming.