Court Asked To Stay FCC’s Ownership Action

Several advocacy groups led by Free Press have petitioned the federal appeals court in Washington for an emergency stay of the FCC April decision to relax the national ownership cap. The FCC action "undermines the public interest goals of diversity, competition and localism," the group say. The FCC has until Thursday to reply to the motion.

Several advocacy groups have asked the United States Court of Appeals in Washington to stay the FCC April 20 decision to relax the national TV ownership cap by restoring the UHF discount in calculating station group coverage.

The effect of the FCC action is to lift the allowable coverage from 39% of TV homes to 78% assuming that all groups in a market are served by UHF stations.

The immediate effect of the stay would be to derail Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media that would balloon Sinclair’s coverage from just below 39% to 72%.

The motion for emergency stay pending a full review of the FCC action was filed by the Institute for Public Representations at Georgetown University Law Center on behalf of Free Press, Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Prometheus Radio Project, Media Mobilizing Project, Media Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition and Common Cause.

The court has given the FCC until this Thursday to respond to the motion.

The FCC action “reinstates a concededly obsolete rule that, not only does not serve the public interest but undermines the public interest goals of diversity, competition and localism,” the motion says.


“It is also arbitrary and capricious for the commission to reinstate this rule on the basis that a future commission will consider the need for the UHF discount at the same time it considers whether to modify or repeal the 39% cap, because the commission lacks statutory authority to modify that cap.”

“In the absence of a stay, petitioners and the viewers they represent will face irreparable harm within a few weeks after the Reinstatement Order becomes effective.

“At that time, the commission will have approved mergers and acquisitions, some of which have already been announced, resulting in substantial consolidation of television station ownership.

“A stay would maintain the status quo pending judicial review. For this reason, broadcasters in this proceeding will not be harmed. Because of the very substantial impact such consolidation would have on the diversity of voices in the marketplace of ideas, grant of a stay would protect the public interest during the course of this proceeding.”

Comments (2)

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Bo Berezansky says:

May 30, 2017 at 11:43 am

The UHF discount is laughable at this day and age. When first instituted the UHF band was the place nobody wanted to be. Propagation has not changed but equipment at both ends has. Viewers no longer need a B-T set top converter, which was common back before the UHF tuner rule in the 60’s. But built in tuner or converter, they were not very good. Also back then it took a heck of a lot of transmitter (and electricity) to make a UHF signal, and THAT was tough to keep looking good. So a coverage discount for UHF almost made sense then.

Not Now.

In the auction did we see a mad dash for low band VHF channels? Nope. Took money to entice anybody to move there. We have seen a huge run-up of local noise impacting the VHF bands. We have seen huge improvements in UHF receivers. And now a 25 kW UHF transmitter is solid state 40% efficient and in one rack. Most of the remaining TV band use will be UHF. Because it works and in fact many (myself included) prefer UHF. Try mobile technologies on VHF. I dare ya.

So if UHF is so desirable why treat it like a place nobody wants to be? There is no reason for the discount today or in the future.

Erin Madigan White says:

May 30, 2017 at 11:46 am

So what does that mean for Sinclair and Bonten merger? Will that be put on hold?