The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), on September 29, 2016, unanimously voted to ease restrictions on foreign ownership of U.S. radio and television broadcasters, substantially harmonizing them with such procedures for common carriers (such as wireless and satellite carriers). The order streamlines a cumbersome filing and review process and, as a result, is expected to attract new investment opportunities for broadcast licensees.

Under the FCC's decades-old view of the Communications Act of 1934, broadcast licensees must receive special prior approval from the FCC for any direct foreign ownership of 20 percent or an indirect 25 percent ownership in a parent company. This review was granted on an "ad hoc" case-by-case basis and approval was virtually impossible to obtain. Under the new procedures, a broadcaster may petition the FCC for a declaratory ruling seeking authority to increase its foreign ownership, and once approved, no subsequent re-approval would be needed. That procedure would permit preapproved foreign controlling interests in a broadcast parent company of up to 100 percent and up to 49.99 percent for non-controlling interests.

In addition, the FCC reduced burdens on publicly traded companies with radio and broadcasting licenses by easing foreign ownership reporting requirements.

If effective, the new procedures would put broadcasters on a more even-footing with other FCC licensees, potentially expanding opportunities to attract foreign investment.