House Dems push FCC for answers about 'preferential treatment' of Sinclair

The letter also questions the timing of the FCC’s approval of Sinclair’s Bonten deal

House Democrats sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to provide answers regarding reports that certain FCC actions have been made with “preferential treatment” of Sinclair.

Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.) called out a number of press reports and asked that Pai address them.

The arguments in the letter (PDF) largely pertain to Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media, but also cover Sinclair’s acquisition of Bonten Media, the ATSC 3.0 rulemaking process, and the FCC’s interactions with the Trump administration and Sinclair.

The letter points out the reinstatement of the UHF discount and its timing relative to Sinclair’s announcement of the Tribune deal, a transaction that would have placed Sinclair above the national audience reach threshold if not for the UHF discount, which counts UHF stations at only 50% toward the cap.

The letter also says the FCC set the pleading cycle for the Sinclair-Tribune deal at only 30 days.

“Even though the proposed transaction is between the two largest owners of broadcast stations, the FCC set a timeline for public comment that was shorter than the pleading cycles set for previous transactions,” the lawmakers wrote.

RELATED: Sinclair responds to calls for Senate hearing on Tribune deal

The letter also questions the timing of the FCC’s approval of Sinclair’s Bonten deal around Pai’s directive to the Media Bureau to rescind 2014 guidance on how the FCC scrutinizes license transfer applications that involve sharing agreements between broadcast stations.

As the letter points out, after the deal Sinclair owns one of the five full-power TV stations in the Eureka, California, market and it controls another through a joint sales agreement and a shared services agreement (that also carries a purchase option for that station).

“As shown by the effect in Eureka, one of the country’s smallest TV markets, the FCC’s approval of this deal raises questions about whether Sinclair has effectively circumvented the FCC’s local TV ownership rules,” the letter says.

The letter also says the FCC may have initiated the rulemaking proceeding for ATSC 3.0 next-gen TV standards with “very few consumer protections in place.” It goes on to detail interactions between Sinclair and the FCC and Trump administration.

The letter comes with an attached list of questions for which the lawmakers ask Pai to provide answers to by Aug. 28.