FCC officially puts media ownership rules review on the docket

FCC Ajit Pai
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

The FCC and Chairman Ajit Pai are following through on pledges to “modernize” media ownership rules by officially opening a docket for review.

Docket 17-105, or “Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative,” popped up (PDF) on April 27, just days after Pai told a large audience at the NAB Show in Las Vegas that it was time for the FCC to get out of the way of broadcasters.

“The last thing broadcast needs are outdated rules standing in their way,” Pai said. “We want to make sure the rules match the reality of 2017, not 1987.”

During his speech, Pai promised a “comprehensive review” this spring of rules governing broadcasters and pay-TV operators and specifically noted examining whether certain rules could be changed to help out small businesses. He also said the FCC will work to allow experimentation with the new ATSC 3.0 TV standards and wipe out the “main studio” rule requiring broadcasters to maintain a central studio in their licensed markets.

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The new review docket from the FCC comes after the commission voted earlier this month to reinstate the UHF discount for broadcasters after the former FCC had done away with the rule. The commission determined that last year’s action had the “effect of substantially tightening the national cap for companies without any analysis of whether this tightening was warranted given current marketplace conditions.” The vote returned the FCC to the “pre-August 2016 status quo in the marketplace” for broadcasters.

Later this year, the FCC has pledged to take a more holistic approach to re-examining both the UHF discount and the 39% ownership cap placed on broadcasters. Back under the rules of the discount, broadcasters using UHF spectrum are allowed to count 50% of television households in their market when gauging compliance with the national cap.