President Donald Trump has ordered the review and possible revocation of the applications for, or sales of, FCC licenses, but it has nothing to do with the President’s view of media outlets or his legal team’s threats against TV station owners. Trump issued an executive order Saturday (April 4) establishing the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector.
The FCC this week announced the filing of two applications seeking broadcast acquisitions by non-U.S. based companies. In one, a company controlled by Mexican citizens would go from 25% to 100% ownership and control of a company that owns two FM stations in California and Arizona. In another, an Italian company would acquire a number of radio stations in Florida. Each of the FCC notices ask for public comment on the proposed acquisitions.
With the publication of an announcement in the Federal Register on April 20, the FCC’s new foreign ownership rules, originally adopted on Sept. 30, 2016, are now finally effective. The FCC’s September 2016 order made two significant changes to the agency’s foreign ownership rules.
An Australian couple’s request to purchase the remaining 80% of two Alaska and two Texas radio stations receives a favorable declaratory ruling from the Media Bureau.
A September FCC order modifying a number of its rules regarding filing and review of foreign ownership in broadcast licensees has now been published in the Federal Register, setting the effective date of at least some of these changes. Many of those rule changes will now go into effect Jan. 30, although some changes regarding “information collections” (i.e. filings with the commission) still require further OMB approval.
The new rules replace the ad hoc case-by-case procedures for requesting approval of foreign ownership of broadcast licensees with a standardized filing and review process, but maintain a thorough review of foreign ownership requests above 25%.
Hemisphere Media Group is looking to operate Spanish-language stations in the U.S. It seeks permission for foreign ownership to go as high as 49.99%. Comments are due on or before Aug.29; replies are due Sept. 13.
In the last two days, the FCC has asked for public comment on two proposals for foreign ownership of U.S. broadcast stations where that ownership would exceed 25% — a limit in place for decades. One involves an Australian couple that wants to acquire 100% of companies owning 29 radio and TV stations. The second involves Univision, which asks for FCC approval for foreign ownership of up to 49% of its stock, as it plans a public offering that would also involve the conversion to stock of warrants held by a Mexican company that already has a stake in the company.
In an effort to facilitate foreign investment in U.S. common carrier and broadcast licensees, the FCC has proposed changes in the way it processes proposals involving reportable levels of foreign ownership. It suggests ways the review process can be abbreviated. It all sounds great at first blush. But a number of pesky details could prove problematic, particularly for broadcasters and applicants that don’t propose foreign ownership.
In Friday’s Federal Register, the FCC published a summary of the commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to revise its policies regarding the ownership of broadcast stations by non-U.S. citizens setting the date for comments on its proposal of Dec. 21, with reply comments due by Jan. 20.
The commission launches a rulemaking that would codify its current policy of allowing a broadcast licensee to request commission approval for its controlling U.S. parent to have up to and including 100% foreign ownership, subject to the commission’s public interest review.
By a 5-0 vote today, the FCC said it is now going to be more willing to consider exceptions to the 25% foreign ownership cap on a case-by-case basis and it set up procedures for broadcasters who want to make a case. “Sought by a broad and diverse range of parties — including broadcasters, the public interest sector and investors — the ruling potentially removes obstacles to new capital investment, which will support small business, minority, and female broadcast ownership, and spur innovation,” the FCC said in announcing the policy.
The commission will consider a request by the Coalition for Broadcast Investment that the FCC consider on a case-by-case basis proposals for foreign investment in broadcast companies in excess of the de facto 25% limitation.
Two weeks ago, comments were filed in the FCC’s proceeding examining whether to adopt a more relaxed view of the foreign ownership provisions of the Communications Act. In what is perhaps a telling indication of where the FCC is going, the statements of three FCC commissioners, in connection with a recent FCC decision to further streamline the approval process for alien ownership in excess of the 25% limitations in FCC-regulated areas other than broadcasting, suggested that the relaxation of the limits should also be extended to broadcasting.
In response to a request by the Coalition for Broadcast Investment, the FCC has invited comments on whether the commission should now be open to allowing non-citizens and foreign companies to hold more than a 25% equity interest in U.S. radio and television stations. The deadline for filing comments is April 15, with reply comments due by April 30.
An ad hoc coalition of broadcasters and minority advocacy group argue that permitting foreign ownership in excess of 25% would “incent entry into the broadcast sector, including by minority and women-owned businesses. It would facilitate investment in new services and infrastructure, create jobs and, ultimately, enhance service to local communities and their viewers and listeners.”